Honoring Hispanic heritage


by Anyssa Lin, Andrew Petrilla & Bethesda Yeh

Graphic by Sophie Song

A stroll down the 2200s hallway reveals the progression of Spanish club’s newest installation: a mural depicting a collage of Hispanic and Latin American cultural symbols.

Whether through art, posters or Schoology updates featuring influential Hispanic and Latine figures, students and teachers have worked diligently in recent years to transform South into a place of inclusion and pride. 

Spanish teacher Helena Alfonzo, a faculty advisor for the Spanish Club and the Latine Affinity Group, said that Spanish Club aims to include all cultures of Hispanic-Latine origin while planning events for Hispanic Heritage Month, which spanned from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. 

“We are trying to celebrate all the richness of the Hispanic-American cultures because, here in the US, there is a tendency to see that Hispanics and Latinos have the same culture and celebrate the same traditions, which is not true,” she said. “Many people come from different cultures and backgrounds, and the Hispanic-American culture is not just one. It’s many.”

Although South’s Latine community only makes up 7.5% of the student body, through various student and faculty groups, many students and educators have found a way to connect with others who are also of Hispanic descent. 

Junior Leonor Quessa, who is of Dominican and Haitian descent, chose to join the Spanish Club during her sophomore year. As a Spanish speaker attending school in a predominantly white community, she said that the club was a way to reconnect with her culture. 

“I couldn’t really find my people [at South] because I live in Boston, [but] I felt like I really found my people in Spanish Club. I found a place where I fit in,” she said. “I remember in middle school, I didn’t really have any Hispanic friends. I was losing my Spanish.”

Spanish teacher Cynthia Manthei, who began the tradition of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at South in 2020, said that progress is evident over the last few years.

“It’s been a dream of mine for years, and it’s finally happening,” she said. “I’ve done work on adding a little bit each year. Last year, we had dance classes, three Fridays during the month, which was phenomenal.”

As the tradition is still young, junior Keith Isaza Zapata said that outreach has proven difficult, with few people participating or taking advantage of opportunities to learn more about Hispanic culture.

“We weren’t able to get the message out as much,” they said. “We had somebody come and teach people how to dance for three minutes and then my mom came, and she did a talk about art in Hispanic cultures. But not many people showed up. Not many people knew that it was happening.”

Manthei said another challenge was frontloading preparation to accommodate the early timing of Hispanic Heritage Month, which began one week after the start of the school year. 

“We got some of the planning done in June, but not enough,” said Manthei. “You just can’t get enough [done] that far ahead of time.”

Sophomore David Rosemberg, a co-president of Spanish Club, says that planning these festivities is a long process.

“[It’s] a lot of emails. We have been communicating a lot with the South Human Rights Council,” he said. “The difference is that we’re trying to do it during a whole day [during class] blocks instead of WINs. It’s been more difficult to reserve the lecture hall for an entire day.”

Additionally, Spanish Club is in the process of painting a mural in the 2200s. It is collage of photos depicting images of Hispanic and Latin American cultures: a mariachi band, flamenco dancers and Afro-Colombian women from Cartagena, to name a few.

“We’ve been working on this mural for three years and because none of us are artists, [we are] trying to understand what we can do,” said Rosemberg. “We’ve just been relying on all of each other. We’ve grown very close.”

Isaza Zapata said the club attempted to incorporate as much as possible in the mural to honor the fact that Hispanic culture has many other cultures within it, including Native Americans, African-Americans and Afro-Latines who live in Spanish-speaking countries, as well as those with mixed Hispanic heritage. 

“We had a really long discussion about what we wanted to put out there and what we wanted to be our mark on the school,” they said.

Mathematics teacher Javier Mendez, who is of Colombian descent but not affiliated with Spanish Club, says his being part of the Hispanic community affects his everyday job. 

“For me, to be Latino is to carry another hat besides being an educator,” he said. “We always need good role models, especially for kids who are in the transition into a new setting.”

Alfonzo said that over the last 14 years that she’s worked at South, Hispanic and Latine representation in school has only significantly emerged in the past three or four years. As South’s student-body continues to grow, change and diversify, Hispanic Heritage Month is only part of the community’s ongoing commitment to represent all cultures. 

“The original goal [of Hispanic Heritage Month] is to capture all those students who are Hispanic or Latino [and] felt invisible here to recognize their own heritage and want to celebrate [who] they are in this country,” she said. 

“[Representation] is a work in progress, and I hope that in the near future, we can have much more.”

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