Pictured: The Waukegan Park District participates in the Fiestas Patrias Parade celebrating the independence of many Latin American countries. Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District.
Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month! Every year from September 15 to October 15, communities celebrate and honor the histories, cultures and contributions of Latinos in the United States. Through the years, Latinos with origins in many countries have made a lasting impact in this country by enhancing communities with their rich and vibrant cultures.
According to the National Archives, National Hispanic Heritage Month began as "Hispanic Heritage Week" under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 and expanded to “Hispanic Heritage Month” under President Ronald Reagan when it was enacted into law in 1988. September 15 is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month because it is the independence day for multiple Latin American countries.
With a population where more than 50 percent of the individuals identify as Hispanic and/or Latino, the Waukegan Park District celebrates the diversity of the Latino community during National Hispanic Heritage Month with educational programs and events recognizing the Latino influence in the arts, culture, fitness and history. The programs and events combine park and recreation programming with education and recognition of Latino contributions.
Wondering how fitness programming could be included during National Hispanic Heritage Month? The Waukegan Park District hosts a free Zumba Fitness Night: Celebrating Latin Hits, a Latin-dance-inspired, high-energy workout experience that is popular among Latino families. Participants are encouraged to get moving to some of the top musical hits from Latino artists. Dancing is a big part of Latino fiestas and culture.
Participants get moving to the top Latin music hits during Zumba Fitness Night: Celebrating Latin Hits. Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District.
Because Latinos place a strong emphasis on family, programming gives local families an opportunity to spend time together while having fun. The Waukegan Park District hosts free Family Lotería Nights, where families compete in a Bingo-style game that originated in Mexico. A shout of “¡lotería!” or “¡buenas!” signals victory for a participant, ending the round. The Waukegan Park District hosts up to three free Family Lotería Nights during Hispanic Heritage Month.
A mom and daughter play Lotería, a Bingo-style game that originated in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District.
Social media can be used to host virtual programming. The Waukegan Park District used videos to share arts and crafts that are popular among Latinos. Making papel picado — a colorful Mexican folk art craft — is not easy, so a bilingual employee produced a step-by-step video to show others how it is created.
However, park and recreation agencies do not have to plan their celebrations alone. Partnerships with local organizations are vital to enhance cultural offerings during National Hispanic Heritage Month. It is a great way to include individuals from the Latino community. For example, the Waukegan Park District and Sugar Skulls Xilotl have partnered to host several programs and events celebrating Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) with sugar skull decorating workshops, a family movie night and a community celebration. With origins in Mexico and celebrated throughout Latin America, Día de Muertos is a celebration of the lives of the deceased. Families create ofrendas (offerings) to honor their family members who have passed away. These altars are decorated with bright flowers, calaveras (skulls), photos, foods, drinks and items to honor their departed loved ones.
A participant shows her decorated sugar skull in preparation for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District.
Promoting the special programming in Spanish and English during National Hispanic Heritage Month is beneficial for many reasons. Bilingual marketing materials emphasize the inclusion of the celebrations — especially among Latinos who only speak Spanish at home — and reflect an effort to close the gap and include everyone by engaging all communities. A bilingual communication strategy ensures that the programs and events benefit the entire community.
Lastly, as park and recreation agencies plan their celebrations during National Hispanic Heritage Month, it is necessary to recognize that Latinos are diverse and carry their own traditions, foods, dialects and history. Because of this, the programming must appreciate, not appropriate, cultural traditions. National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to recognize the achievements and contributions of Latinos in the United States. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month from the Waukegan Park District!
Josue Pasillas, MPA, is the communications supervisor at Waukegan Park District.