Spotlight Series: Dr. Lori Rodriguez

September 18, 2020

Marketing and Strategic Communications

This week marked the beginning of Palo Alto College’s Heritage Month – a celebration to honor the indigenous heritages of South Texas. Hosted by the College’s Center for Mexican American Studies and Student Life, all events are taking place virtually this year.

Dr. Lori Rodriguez, assistant professor of Mexican American studies, curated the month-long event series and will be encouraging thought-provoking conversations about terms that are used interchangeably to describe the Latino community, which makes up roughly 18 percent of the U.S. population.

“I’m proud of the work that we’ve done to challenge and complicate these terms,” said Rodriguez. “We are teaching our students, faculty, staff, and community what these terms mean and why these terms matter.”

Over the years, the name of the event for Palo Alto College has evolved from Hispanic Heritage Month to what it is called today.

“We’ve always been very conscious of the name of ‘Heritage Month,’” said Rodriguez. “It used to be called, traditionally, ‘Hispanic Heritage Month.’ But as culture evolves, as society and political climates change, that’s something that was brought up by the previous coordinator. Is the term ‘Hispanic’ still what we want to call this event?”

Though the word Hispanic may serve to unify different peoples from various Spanish-speaking countries, it has been criticized for highlighting Spain, which colonized much of Latin America. This consideration ultimately prompted the name change of the event for the College.

“If we look at Latino or Latinx history, it’s rooted in a lot of indigenous culture and history,” said Rodriguez. “We forget that there were languages spoken way before Spanish on this continent by indigenous people who, many of them, are now considered Mexican American.”

The term Latino, short for the Spanish word “latinoamericano,” is often favored as an alternative to the word Hispanic because of its de-emphasis of Spain. However, the terms Latino and Latina follow the gendered rules of the Spanish language – labeling nouns as either masculine or feminine. Those who fall outside the gender binary might feel this word fails to represent them. The term Latinx has emerged in recent years as a more inclusive and gender-neutral option.

For Rodriguez, it all comes down to identity. “It’s a good conversation to have. I’m very interested in hearing what people think and how they identify. The good thing is that we recognize that culture isn’t stagnant. Identities aren’t stagnant; times change, and people’s viewpoints change.”

Heritage Month offers an opportunity to celebrate the strides the Latinx community has made toward shaping the future of the U.S. and fostering representation.

“We [Latinos] have a very proud history,” said Rodriguez. “Our progress is thanks to the generations of Latinos who have survived and thrived in this society. I tell my students that they can’t put a price on the legacy that’s been entrusted to them, and now they have that responsibility to move it forward.”

Celebrated Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, Heritage Month will feature a series of free virtual events, including panel discussions, author readings, artist visits, and more. For a full list of events, including times and registration links, visit alamo.edu/pac/heritage-month.