National Hispanic Heritage Month encourages reflection on Latino contributions

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COLUMBIA – National Hispanic Heritage Month began Thursday, and some mid-Missourians are using the annual event to cultivate awareness about Hispanic and Latino cultures.

Blanca Kelty, a Spanish instructor at Centro Latino, a Latino community center in Columbia, said Hispanic Heritage Month is particularly important this year, with the presidential election on the horizon.

“It is really important that Hispanic people in the United States get informed about the elections and that we be well-informed about the two candidates... It’s very important that we have a voice in this country,” Kelty said. “We are part of this country and part of this culture.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. Latino population is currently estimated at 57 million. Missouri’s population is 4 percent Hispanic, and there are 107,000 Hispanic eligible voters in the state.

With immigration at the forefront of both party platforms this election season, Kelty said it’s important to educate non-Hispanics about Latinos’ contributions to American culture.

Sarah Kohnle is a student taking Spanish lessons from Kelty at Centro Latino. She said the classes give her an opportunity to experience and appreciate Hispanic culture at home and abroad.

She said Hispanic Heritage Month is a good opportunity for people to engage in conversations with their Hispanic neighbors and learn more about their culture.

“I think it’s very important to have a global perspective where we get to learn more about each other,” Kohnle said.

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs through Oct. 15. Various national, regional and state events are planned to commemorate the achievements of the Hispanic community.