Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated for the first time by the City of Long Beach on Tuesday, as part of efforts by Councilman Roberto Uranga to appreciate the growing influence of Latinos.
“We’ve never celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month [...] and I just thought that this would be a great way to end the month,” Uranga said.
The festivities started before the Long Beach City Council meeting that evening, with a performance by the Mariachi Imperial de Mexico, tacos from a food truck and a presentation of the city’s Hispanic leaders, including its very first Latino Mayor Robert Garcia and Police Chief Robert Luna.
“This is just an example of the Latino leadership that's here that continues to grow,” said Garcia outside of the Long Beach City Hall. “One of the best things about long beach is our diversity [...] we all love being here and it's a great community.”
Inside the city council chamber, the celebration continued with more Mariachi music and a brief presentation on the impact of Hispanics on the United States by Dr. Jose Moreno, department chair for Chicano and Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
“We are beginning to figure out and embrace what is not only our heritage but our presence and our future,” Moreno said. “The Latino context must not only be understood on economic terms, because it cannot be denied, but on the cultural and civil terms.”
There are currently 55 million Latinos in the United States, Moreno stated, with about 119 million expected to populate the United States by 2060.
According to Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, Hispanic small business owners contribute $468 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
“As we join together here to remember all that has been accomplished, let us not become complacent,” Hahn said in the council chamber. “There is much to be done to empower the Hispanic community and make this nation a more inclusive one where everyone can achieve the American Dream.”
In addition, the United States has become the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, Moreno said.
“If we do not embrace our culture and our language together through forward-thinking policies then we really run the risk of leading into a way that fractures our society,” Moreno said. “People assume diversity means fragmentation, and we know through education and work that when people come together in schools, in communities, that only good things happen when they come on equal terms.”
Currently, 420 Long Beach Unified high schoolers are enrolled in the inaugural “U.S. Diversity and the Ethnic Experience in the United States” Saturday course given and accredited by CSULB, Moreno added.
“So our students who live in our neighborhoods can understand each other’s cultural and historical context so that when they become the leaders they then know exactly how to engage in ways that are inclusive and see the opportunities rather than seeing it as a challenge,” Moreno said.
While Uranga hailed the event as a success for the amount of time and budget allotted, he expressed plans for more substantial activities next year throughout the whole month, including lectures, art, dance and music.