Hispanic Heritage Month gives opportunity to highlight diversity

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COLUMBIA - Hispanics/Latinos make up only 4 percent of the Missouri population according to the latest information attained by Pew Research Center, but that hasn’t stopped Columbia from celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with many events.

MU faculty and students, along with community organizations, have hosted events on campus and at centers around Columbia to celebrate, and have others scheduled throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month 

The observance began Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. It started in 1968 as President Lyndon Johnson declared a National Hispanic Heritage Week, and was expanded to a month by President Ronald Reagan and Congress in 1988.

Missouri’s Hispanic/Latino population has grown steadily for the last 20 years, and saw an almost 80 percent increase from the 2000 to the 2010 census, according to Census.gov.

Although National Hispanic Heritage Month allows for schools and organizations to educate on other cultures, it’s the everyday lives of Hispanics and Latinos around the community that give Missouri and Columbia a diversity that allows for different customs and traditions to be available for others to discover.

Javier “El Pollo” Bautista has worked almost every Saturday for 12 years as a volunteer radio host at KOPN 89.5, a community radio station in Columbia. Bautista hosts a show called “El Festival del Pollo” or “The Chicken’s Festival.”

The show is in Spanish and includes segments about Hispanic musicians and allows for community leaders to come and speak. He also takes requests for Spanish songs that aren’t available on mid-Missouri radio.

He said it’s about being able to continue traditions

“We all know this is a country of immigrants, and regardless of where they’re from, our culture and roots cannot be lost,” Bautista said.

Another thing that’s as important to culture as music is food, and Javier Garcia has taken that and turned it into a business that has been open for 11 years.

As owner of the Mexican restaurant and grocery store “Los Cuates”, or “the Brothers,” Garcia has his store’s products shipped from St. Louis. The store has spices, candies, junk food, and everyday ingredients that are imported from Mexico.

The Centro Latino opened in 2000 after Executive Director Eduardo Crespi recognized the need for culturally appropriate services for the Hispanic/Latino community.

The Center offers free English classes Mondays at 6 p.m. and $10 Spanish classes on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.

It also offers an after-school program for elementary and middle school children with a library filled with books in English and Spanish.

“The center’s language classes offer opportunities to many. The Spanish classes can help people who are curious with the language or are possibly going on a study abroad or mission trip, Crespi said. "While the English classes can offer help to people who want to advance in their work, be more aware of the things going on around them and in society, and even parents who just want to be able to go to school meetings and support their children by knowing what the teacher has to say.”

Hispanic Heritage Month is designed to bring attention to such people and centers and celebrate diversity in Columbia and around the nation.