Students Jackelyn Palmas and Jose Medina stand next to each other, each holding a corner of the Mexican flag, which flies behind them.

Hispanic Heritage Month: How GVSU students are celebrating

National Hispanic Heritage Month, traditionally held from September 15 to October 15, honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans as communities celebrate heritage rooted in all Latin American countries (National Hispanic Heritage Month). 

Grand Valley’s Office of Multicultural Affairs hosts an extended celebration with a number of events through November 2. Students David Arellano, Jackelyn Palmas, Jose Medina and Sebastian Lerma shared what this celebration meant to them.

David Arellano: Celebrating through dance

Student David Arellano poses with a pair of boots that remind him of dancing and celebrating with his family.

For second-year student David Arellano, family is an integral part of not only Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, but of all the highs and lows in his life. In fact, he said he chose Grand Valley in part due to its proximity to his family in Grand Rapids. 

The busy psychology major spends his time outside of class mentoring through Laker Familia, serving as secretary for the Latino Student Union, tutoring through GVSU’s TRIO program, taking part in GVSU’s wrestling club and intramural sports, and working at his family’s restaurant in Grand Rapids. 

And for Arellano, celebrations in his family have always meant one thing: dancing. 

“Dancing has been a big thing in my family,” he said, displaying his boots and belt. “Since I was young, that was the thing that we all share together. When the music would come on, we would have our boots and our belts, and we’d dance.”

In addition to his other on-campus involvement, Arellano has found a way to celebrate while also continuing to learn about new styles of dance through Baile Folklorico, a GVSU student dance group. “I've learned multiple different dance styles, but this is the only one that I haven't yet,” he said. “It wasn’t in my family growing up. It was a good opportunity for me to learn a little bit more.”

Jackelyn Palmas and Jose Medina: Honoring legacies and paving the way for those to come

Students Jackelyn Palmas and Jose Medina laugh with one another, holding onto Mexican flags.

For Jackelyn Palmas, a third-year biology major and president of the Latino Student Union, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate those who paved the way for her, as well as those who will follow. She is grateful for her parents, who have worked hard and made sacrifices to ensure her bright future. 

“I know my parents had a lot of barriers,” she said, reflecting on her parents’ challenging journey to the United States. 

Jose Medina, a fourth-year student pursuing a degree in political science, has a similar story. “I’m doing this for them,” he said. “Growing up the youngest of five, we always had to take care of each other. I saw my parents working every day to provide for us, and my siblings and I had to rely on each other.” 

GVSU’s first Hispanic Heritage Month event, "Presente y adelante! A time to Celebrate, Remember and Amplify our Latinx Voices," featured a presentation by Martha Villegas on Latinx civil rights leaders and activists, and reminded both Palmas and Medina of those before them who paved the way. 

“It’s a chance to honor their legacies and learn more about their history,” Palmas reflected. “You don't read about them in textbooks at school. I'm just learning about them now, and I'm more than halfway in my college career.”

Both Palmas and Medina are working hard to break the cycle for those that follow them. “I tend to put so much pressure on myself. Being the first one in my family to go to university, it's really hard,” Palmas said. “Sometimes on paperwork, they ask you what your parents’ highest education level is. Many of us have to write ‘middle school’ or ‘high school.’ But I know for us, our kids are going to be able to say, ‘My parents got a bachelor's degree or a master's degree.' We’re breaking that cycle.”

Medina works hard to have the same impact on other’s lives, including his students at Kellogsville High School where he works as a college prep teacher. “I'm working with students trying to get them ready for college and for real life. I want them to be ready,” Medina said.

Medina’s ambition for a brighter future isn’t limited to the students he teaches. He hopes to run for office, continuing to break barriers and representing those he loves. “I want to be that representation. Future generations can look at us and say, ‘They broke those barriers for us,'” Medina said.

Sebastian Lerma: Finding family on campus

Student Sebastian Lerma poses for a picture in a hand-woven poncho.

Sebastian Lerma, a second-year microbiology major, said he feels a strong sense of pride when he showcases a red and black poncho. At first glance, it may not seem like much, but as Lerma explained, his family’s history is woven into the fabric. 

Ponchos like Sebastian’s are handwoven by children in small cities in developing countries, cities very similar to Cerralvo, Mexico, which holds a special place in his heart. “It's a little city,” he recounted. “That's where my mom’s side of the family was born and raised.”

Like many of his peers, Lerma said he feels strong ties to his roots, and has found a sense of community and family on-campus through programs like Laker Familia and the Latino Student Union. For him, celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month means staying involved in these on-campus programs, and encouraging others to do the same. 

“You're going to meet some really nice people that are just like you,” he reflected. “I didn't have that many friends coming in, and all of a sudden I have all these friends from Laker Familia and now the Latino Student Union. You won't feel alone anymore, and it’s a great way to get involved.” 

Upcoming Hispanic Heritage Month events

  • Oct. 19, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., 2215/2216 Kirkhof Center – Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by helping with the need for blood donations. RSVP on LakerLink
  • Nov. 2, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., 1240 Kirkhof Center – Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember those who have passed away, and help support their spiritual journey. Coffee and sweet bread will be served from 9 a.m.-noon.


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