Director of diversity, equity and inclusion reflects on her identity during this month

By M. Cristina Alcalde, vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion

The Latinx community, like Latin America, is among the most diverse in the world. We come from over 20 different countries and territories and encompass all races, genders, classes, abilities, religions, and, based just on the number of languages spoken in Latin America, at least 500 different languages (including many indigenous languages). What, then, does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month mean?

Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, which started off as a week in 1968 and expanded to a month in 1988, is a time to recognize the history and contributions of those of Hispanic and Latinx origin in the United States. It is celebrated during this time to coincide with the Independence Day of several Latin American countries.

We typically focus on celebrations of past achievements. With a record 18.9% (62 million!) of the U.S. population identifying as Hispanic or Latinx (and a record 4.4% in Ohio, with some towns as high as 28%) today, the month is also a great opportunity to think of opportunities created by and to which those of Hispanic and Latinx origin contribute – in the realms of art, politics, education, the economy and much more.

At Miami, Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to intentionally recognize the amazing contributions of our students (including those in the student group UNIDOS), faculty and staff (including those in the affinity group ALFAS), alumni and the broader community of which our campuses are a part. I recently participated in the UniDiversity Festival – a wonderful and fun community event that brings together Oxford and Miami to learn about and celebrate our differences through music, food, conversation and art – as a way to kick off the month. As a newcomer to Miami and new Oxford resident, I welcome this type of commitment to recognizing and celebrating Latinx identities.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, I personally look forward to learning more about the cultural practices and experiences of other Latinxs. I also cherish the opportunity to reminisce about my own experiences, family history and trajectory – from Peru to the U.S. back and forth many times, resulting in many deep transnational ties. My personal journey shares some similarities to those of other Latin Americans and Latinxs yet is certainly not representative of all of these rich stories.

In my role as vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion, I cherish the opportunity during Hispanic Heritage Month not only to celebrate but to play a role in educating about the rich diversity within the Latinx population. It is important that we recognize what it is we are celebrating. This month’s Miami celebrations included an interactive talk by Gabby Rivera, who will speak about being the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics, and her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx; a panel on what it means to be Latinx in higher education in the 21st Century, featuring Miami faculty and staff; and a conversation with Daisy Hernandez on her book “The Kissing Bug: A True Story of a Family, an Insect, and a Nation’s Neglect of a Deadly Disease.”

Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day, which also fall within this month, provide further opportunities to reflect on our rich identities. As a community, many of us trace our family origins to indigenous people in Latin America and the Caribbean, forcibly enslaved Africans, forcibly indentured Asians and European colonizers. We are far from homogenous or monolithic, and the future looks even more diverse as those in the Latinx community increasingly identify as multiracial.

As someone in senior administration, I know that I am among only 3% of Latinx currently in higher ed administration and part of a slightly bigger yet still too small percentage of Latina full professors. I also know that all students, faculty and administrators want and need to see their/our identities reflected in those around them, and I am committed to doing everything possible to make higher education more accessible, inclusive and diverse.

I am very proud of my Latin American, Latinx, Peruvian heritage and identities and excited about the possibilities for collaboration across areas and communities to make our community, higher education and Miami more diverse, inclusive and equitable.

M. Cristina Alcalde is Miami’s vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion and is working on developing a series of brief, online modules designed to provide a solid foundation in topics related to inclusion and diversity. To ensure the topics align with alumni needs, we invite you to share your input by taking this survey.