FIU senior Ashley Perez grew up immersed in her parents’ Honduran and Colombian cultures. Though she was born and raised in Miami, Perez spent her childhood traveling to her parents’ birth countries as well as throughout the Caribbean, instilling in her a respect for and admiration of her heritage.
Perez’s story is one that rings true for many of FIU’s Hispanic students, and she believes in the power of shared experiences. Her grandmother immigrated to the United States without knowing how to read or write, in either English or Spanish; but with hard work and perseverance, she was able to bring her children and grandchildren to join her in the United States and provide for them.
For Perez, Hispanic Heritage Month is about acknowledging and honoring her people’s determination to overcome great obstacles in the pursuit of hope. Her family’s story drives her commitment to succeed – Perez is majoring in criminal justice with a minor in political science and a certificate in Latin American and Caribbean studies. She intends to pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney and hopes to one day own a nonprofit organization focused on helping attain exoneration for people imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
“For me, Hispanic Heritage Month means pride in our culture, pride in who you are… pride in our abilities. We are a very strong people, a very culturally rich people. I think it’s important to acknowledge and embrace that, especially at FIU, where we have such a diverse population of students, faculty and staff,” Perez said.
FIU will commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated Sept. 15-Oct. 15, with more than a dozen events celebrating the experiences of Hispanic- and Latine-identifying people, including panel discussions, hora locas, student spotlights on social media, and more. The observance comes on the heels of the university’s recent ranking as No. 1 in awarding bachelor’s and master’s degrees to Hispanics. FIU is also designated a Hispanic Serving Institution and Minority Serving Institution, recognitions of the university’s commitment to ensuring every student succeeds.
Perez, a student ambassador for the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion and a member of the Black Student Union, led the planning for the event “Where are the Afro-Latines?”, a panel discussion exploring the Afro-Latine experience, which will take place in-person and virtually on Sept. 20 at 5:30 p.m.
Perez’s goal is to bring together Afro-Latines in the FIU community to share their lived experiences and bring awareness to the issues the community faces.
“Growing up, it’s sometimes very difficult if you identify as Black and Hispanic,” Perez said. “Sometimes, you’re in a situation where you’re too Black to be Hispanic, but you’re too Hispanic to be Black, so you kind of fall in middle, wondering, ‘Where do I belong? Where do I fit in?’ …I thought this could be the perfect place to bring together Afro-Latines within our own FIU community to speak on what they’ve gone through, for instance, with roles of power, and overall living life.”
Other Hispanic Heritage Month events across the university include:
- “Mujeres Empoderadas: Across Generations,” a discussion on navigating cultural politics, feminism and advocacy on Sept. 21
- “PROOF Presents: La Ultima Gira,” a film premiere and scholarship fundraiser benefiting FIU’s Maurice A. Ferré Institute for Civic Leadership on Sept. 24
- “Noche Latina,” a cultural celebration featuring food, dancing and live performances on Sept. 26;
- “Liderazgo Cívico: Engaging Latine Communities,” a panel discussion addressing leadership across heritage and history on Oct. 11
“FIU is committed to celebrating heritage and awareness months and amplifying the voices of all members of the FIU community. Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American forerunners and Latin diasporic people as a whole, who have inspired others to achieve success. While the significance of the contributions of Hispanic and Latine people cannot be limited to just one month, this time is ultra-important in that it carves out specific spatiality to pause and honor the cultures, contributions and heritage rooted in all Latin American countries through various methods of education and entertainment,” said David Bynes, director of the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion.
FIU’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration is a collaboration between the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and highlights events hosted across the university which celebrate Latinidad in FIU, South Florida and beyond.
“As a Hispanic Serving Institution, it is important for us at FIU to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month as a way to continue advancing our goal of cultivating an inclusive and equitable campus climate. This celebration is a perfect opportunity to highlight the inherent diversity within the Hispanic and Latine community and elevate all the different voices that make up this culturally rich and diverse group,” said Emmanuele Bowles, assistant vice provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
For a full list of events as well as registration information, visit the Office of Social Justice and Inclusion website.