This week, communities across the U.S. are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, a month dedicated to the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.
The origins of the observance began with President Lyndon Johnson, who designated Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968. In 1988, it expanded to a full month, starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15. Mid-September is significant as many Latin American countries and Mexico celebrate the anniversary of their independence from Spain.
In Watsonville, various groups have kicked off celebrations. Watsonville Public Library has organized its first-ever “Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month Art Contest.” Organizer Stephanie Barraza, who works as Watsonville’s Adult Services Librarian, said she was inspired by the success of the library’s recent online poetry contest.
The contest is split into four categories: elementary students (grades 3-5), middle school students (grades 6-8), high school students (grades 9-12) and adults. Submissions can be paintings or drawings, sculpture and mixed media. People can submit virtually and voting will be held online.
It was important, Barraza said, to keep the contest open to as many people as possible. The library has already seen a lot of interest from high school students in particular.
“I see the value in having everyone involved,” she said. “Especially the youth. It is a challenging time right now … it’s good for them to channel their energy into something creative. And it’s just great to see their perspective on things.”
While the contest is centered around Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, submissions are not limited to it. One early submission, Barraza said, was inspired by the recent fires and how they affected the community.
Twelve winners will be selected. Their work will be shared on the library’s website and social media, and staff hopes to hand out gift cards to local businesses and restaurants. A submission form can be found here.
In addition to the art contest, the library, located at 275 Main St., is handing out sugar skull craft kits, which residents can pick up during curbside pickup hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday noon-5pm, and Tuesday-Thursday noon-7pm.
The library is also hosting its Ballet Folklorico Summer Workshop virtually, with instructor Graciela Vega. The workshops were funded by a grant from the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County. The final will be released on the last day of Latinx and Hispanic Heritage month on Oct. 15 and will be a special ballet folklorico workshop in honor of Dia de los Muertos, featuring traditional dance from the Michoacán region.
Culture through film
Watsonville Film Festival will host a screening of the documentary To Stir the Heart with Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History at Abbott Square on Saturday at 8pm. The film, also available to view online this week at watsonvillefilmfest.org, follows a group of children recovering from the Sept. 19, 2017 earthquake in Mexico, channeling their trauma through poetry and painting.
Executive Director Consuelo Alba said that director of the film Melissa Elizonodo was scheduled to appear at the festival’s event in March before the Covid-19 pandemic hit California. To make up for it, the Watsonville Film Festival hosted a special virtual chat with the director Thursday.
Alba said that To Stir the Heart is a “beautiful example of the power of art and community … how children can turn trauma into something beautiful.”
Space for the in-person film screening is limited; Abbott Square (725 Front St., Santa Cruz) is limited to 100 guests. Organizers advise that people arrive early to secure their space. Social distancing and other Covid-19 safety protocols will be implemented.
Alba said that while Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month is a good way to promote people’s stories and experiences, it is important to recognize it year-round.
“Hispanic heritage is American heritage,” she said. “There is so much polarization right now in this country. It is super important to remember that [Hispanic and] Latino stories are always relevant.”
Added Barraza: “For me … it is my heritage, and it is definitely important to be able to celebrate and be proud of my culture. But I think especially now, with people so disconnected. This kind of celebration brings us all together.”