Descubrir, Aprender, y Mejorar! Discover, Learn, and Improve During Hispanic Heritage Month 2021

It’s September!! This wonderful 9th month of the year brings all sorts of wonders with it. We’re shaking off the start of a new semester and getting settled in. Starbucks, and almost every other brand in the nation, has a pumpkin spiced something available for all. We officially transition into autumn. Temperatures start dropping…or rather we desperately hope that temperatures start dropping because the warm weather we wished for all winter has become hot and sticky and gross and we’re ready for something new. Banned books week is on its way (shameless plug for our annual event). But maybe one of the most important things September brings is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month!

Brief History

Hispanic Heritage month takes place from September 15 through October 15. During this national observation, we take a moment to celebrate “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America” (Library of Congress).

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson acknowledged a week-long observation and celebration for Hispanic Heritage. President Ronald Reagan expanded this to a 30-day period as an enacted law on August 17, 1988.

Why the 15th and not September 1st? September 15th marks the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their own one to three days after the 15th. In honor of these independence days, the observance begins on the 15th.

Get Involved

TAMU-CC offers a number of ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month this year! With guest authors and speakers to fun and engagement, there are several opportunities! To learn more, visit the Hispanic Heritage Month website. Also, check out the library’s informational and interactive guide to embrace and immerse in this cultural celebration.

In the meantime, I’d like to share some fun info bits about two of the topics you’ll get to engage in this year: papel picado and lotería!

Papel Picado

Rows of papel picado art hanging outside with trees and a blue sky

On September 23rd, the I-Create Lab in the library will show students how to create their own papel picado. For those not familiar, you’ll often see papel picado hanging as a banner during festivities, especially in Mexico and a few other Latin American cultures.

How about a quick history lesson?

With an origin in Mesoamerican cultures, papel picado banners were originally made from the bark of maguey, fig, or mulberry trees. Many of the designs on these banners depicted figures like Miquizili, the Aztec god of death.

In the 1500s, the Spanish conquistadores invaded Mesoamerica and burned, destroyed, and erased many of the cultural representations of the Aztec people. Over time, however, papel de china, or what we know as tissue paper, was brought into Mexico through Chinese imports. The paper was thin and pliable, making it a new material to revive the creation of papel picado – but now, with a Christian twist.

Still, similar to their Mesoamerican ancestors, images related to death continue to be present on the papel picado we see today. This cultural piece of art is often proudly hung during Día de los Muertos, or Day of Dead, to celebrate the afterlife and the cycle of life in general.

While most papel picado is mass produced and often found on thin plastic, a few artists exist who still create these works of art in the tradition manner – with a chisel and a hammer. Stop by the I-Create and learn yet another way to create these decorative pieces of history!

La Lotería

La Lotería cards

On September 30th, the Islander Cultural Alliance and Islanders Teaching, Engaging, and Motivating (I-TEAM) will host a Lotería game at 9 pm in the University Center Anchor Ballrooms. Let’s talk more about the history of this game!

While the similarities to bingo are undeniable, lotería is unique in that rather than numbers, players are handed a card full of colorful images. From the beauty of la luna to the giggle-inducing el borracho, this game combined art, the Spanish language, competition and fun all in one.

La Lotería came to Mexico in the late 1700s and its origin was influenced by several cultures. Originally played by Spanish colonizers and the more elite members of society, eventually it spread throughout Mexico.

Traditionally, when playing loteria, the facilitator would provide a short, improvised poem or phrase – no pressure. The popularity of the facilitator would depend on their wittiness when creating the poem or phrase. Here’s an example: El sol…un abrigo para los pobres (The sun…a coat for the poor). True story, as a kid I played lotería with my family and we probably had the most fun coming up with a phrase for el borracho (hence the giggle-inducing comment above). Some even used it as a chance to present a satirical statement or offer a bit of social commentary, for example – el mundo, a card with the image similar to the Greek image of Atlas, aka a man holding the world on his shoulders, my be presented as, “El mundo…also known as a representation of student debt.”

Of the variety of lotería card designs, one of the most widely used is the “Don Clemente Gallo” version that was introduced to Mexico in the 1880s by Don Clemente Jacques, a French businessman. As part of his marketing strategy, he would include a small version of lotería in the rations for Mexican soldiers. These soldiers would then return home to their families with the game. Today, as in the past, this version of the game stands out among others thanks to the all too familiar Gallo (rooster) emblem.

Image of the "Don Clemente Gallo" La Lotería card cover design

After writing this, I now very much want to go home, grab some uncooked pinto beans, and play a few rounds. If you’re interested, remember to join the game on September 30th at 9 pm!!

Also, be sure to join the celebration during the September 15th Kickoff at 11:30 a.m. in the UC Anchor Ballroom!!

Take care!