Members of Tulane Latinx community reflect on heritage


Elana Bush | Photography Editor

Front page graphic: Lucía Paternostro, Nadia Vargas, Luisa Cuellar, Jimena Padilla, Meg García, Justin Olavarrieta Hugger (from top left to right).

Meg García, Intersections Editor

Tulane’s Latinx community is not a monolith.

Though unified by heritage, many aspects of a person’s identity can make their experiences different. Whether they can speak the language, where their parents are from and if they are an international student can all act as barriers within Tulane’s Latinx community. 

Each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, American people celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month to highlight the culture and accomplishments of people whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. 

The month includes important dates to the Latinx community, signifying anniversaries of independence for Latin American countries. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua celebrates their anniversaries on Sep. 15, while Mexico celebrates on Sep. 16 and Chile on Sep. 18.

According to Time Magazine, Hispanic Heritage Month “pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.” The U.S.’ Latinx community amounts to nearly one-fifth of the country’s total population.

In reflection of Hispanic Heritage Month, six Tulane students, four domestic and two international, provide their perspectives on both their experiences being Latinx and the Latinx community on Tulane’s campus. 

Jimena Padilla 

Jimena (she/her/hers) is a junior from Matamoros Tamaulipas, a small town in Mexico that borders Brownsville, Texas. She was born in Honduras, and her mother is from there, but she was raised in Mexico. 

When I say I’m from Mexico, I kind of have to say again that I am a citizen from Mexico, because people think I’m talking about my heritage,” Padilla said. 

Padilla is a studio art minor and had some of her work shown in an art exhibit. Her art reflected the aspects of her culture that she is most proud of.

“I am really proud of the Mexican muralist movement, its influence in the art world as well as a social movement in the history of Mexican art,” Padilla said.

Though Padilla is an international student, she said that being aware of the number of domestic students on campus would be beneficial to both domestic and international groups of Latinx students.

“There are 30 of us in my generation that are from Latin American countries, and even then, every Latin American country is different,” Padilla said.

Luisa Cuellar

Luisa (she/her/hers) is a sophomore from Bogotá, Colombia. 

“I would like to see more of it [the Latinx community], and I think it’s important that there is more of it on campus because Latinx communities are underrepresented in the United States compared to how big of a community it is,” Cuellar said.

She explained that many people seem to view Latin America as a cluster of countries that are considered to be developing and in need of help from Americans. 

“Coming from a country in Latin America with a lot of Americans, there’s a disconnect that my country [Colombia] is very underdeveloped and that we don’t have X or Y,” Cuellar said.

Her experience moving to the U.S. to attend college is one shared by many other international students from around the world. 

“It was big for me to move from a place where my identity was pretty clear to a space that was very different, so I had to figure out what was my identity in how Americans view race, class and ethnicity, which is different in Colombia,” Cuellar said. 

Nadia Vargas 

Nadia (she/her/hers) is a sophomore from Los Angeles. She explained that not being considered “fluent” in Spanish has made her feel isolated. 

“I’m not Latinx enough for the community, but at the same time I’m not white enough to be in any other community,” Vargas said. “So, sometimes it’s like this weird middle ground of not being in either because I’m not from Mexico myself or speak it fluently.”

Vargas said she wants to break the barrier between international and domestic students and interact more. 

“So I really do think it’s unfortunate that we don’t, and I feel like there’s this hierarchy of how Latina you are,” Vargas said. “It would be great if it was a lot more inclusive and encompassing of however much you chose to express that.”

Regardless of this dynamic, Vargas feels strongly about her Latina identity. 

“I’d like to say that I’m very proud to be Latina and in whatever way you identify as Latinx, you should be proud of that,” Vargas said. “On this campus it is very easy to feel like you need to blend in or you need to forget about that part of yourself, but we have that really cool opportunity to expose people to our culture.

Lucía Paternostro 

Lucía (she/they) is a sophomore from Metairie, Louisiana. They brought up the implication of “Hispanic” Heritage Month and how this effectively excludes the indigenous populations that originally made up and still make up the population of Latin America. 

“As someone who comes from indigenous roots, it feels very white-centric having concepts of Hispanic Heritage Month versus even ‘Latino’ heritage or indigenous heritage,” Paternostro said. “It’s something that is even ingrained and glorified into Latin cultures, like having Hispanic blood.”

Paternostro suggested that cutting tuition costs could open up opportunities for other Latinx students from many different backgrounds to attend Tulane. 

“It’s not like there aren’t Latinos from different backgrounds that wouldn’t want to have that name. It just seems out of reach,” Paternostro said. 

Through it all, Paternostro said, “I am proud of my family and how far we’ve come and the food that we eat.”

Justin Olavarrieta Hugger

Justin (he/him/his) is a sophomore from Kenner, Louisiana. He grew up in the part of the neighborhood known as “Little Honduras.”

“When I arrived on campus, I was quick to try and connect with the Latinx community through attending GENTE meetings and making friends with Latinx international students,” Olavarietta said. “I noticed that the Latinx community at Tulane seemed absent.”

Olavarrieta described a community very different from the one he grew up with that was “very connected, especially with a strong Latinx presence in city cultural events, restaurants, businesses and all the like.”

“Sometimes, because of the proximity, I would just take a short stroll to Loyola’s campus, to visit with friends from high school, or simply just bask in the ambiance where there were more Latinxs of color,” Olavarrieta said.

Meg Garcia (she/her/hers)

I am a sophomore from Knoxville, Tennessee.

There were almost no other Latinx people in my community or in my schools. I was always the kid who was darker than the other kids, prompting some to refer to me as “dirty.” Growing up in a community where I wasn’t able to learn more about my identity really whitewashed me.

Since coming to Tulane, my awareness of my own identity has blossomed from being able to interact with other Latinx students, no matter how small the community is.

Like Nadia Vargas, however, I identify with the feeling of insecurity that comes with not being able to speak Spanish fluently. We feel that we can be judged for not speaking the language fluently because it might then make us outsiders who aren’t truly included in the community.

Though it is somewhat small, there is a strong Latinx community on Tulane’s campus. We are all united by this shared identity no matter how different we are, and we all must realize that. It is important that we make an effort to break the barrier between domestic and international students which is felt by both sides. If we are able to do this, then Tulane’s Latinx community will be more united and feel to show its more pronounced presence. 

There is no doubt in my mind about how much pride every Latinx student on campus feels in their heritage. This endeavor to come together, however, must be an effort from us all.

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