|It's a time for Latinos to recharge their ethnic batteries, a season to wear colorful costumes, wave flags, sing and dance to folkloric music, and appreciate Hispanic literature, theater, and art. It's a time to dig out the roots of Spanish and Latin American culture - and to celebrate like there is no manana.
Hispanic Heritage Month begins today.
All over the metropolitan area, hundreds of events are planned to promote la cultura Latina. In schools, libraries, community centers, galleries, and concert halls, Latinos will display their culture and express pride in their heritage.
This is the time for Latinos to learn about each other, promote their culture to non-Latinos, and arm themselves with historical ammunition. For those who want to experience Latin culture on these shores, there is no better time.
"Latinos like to live la vida loca during the whole year, but this is the month when we really go crazy displaying our culture," said Israel Romero, president of the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. "And this is also the month when we reflect on who we are as a people living in this wonderful country."
Ask Latinos the meaning of Hispanic Heritage Month and you get many definitions. The historians will tell you this is the month designated by Congress in 1988 to replace the Hispanic Heritage Week, which had been observed starting on Sept. 15 since 1968. Others see it as a time to march in parades and go to cocktail parties.
But not everyone agrees.
For years, critics of Hispanic Heritage Month have been saying that the celebrations needed to be more educational. They wanted more forums and fewer parties, and they wanted young Latinos to know the real reasons for marching in parades.
Wendy Martinez, co-curator of the Hispanic Heritage exhibit at the Newark Public Library, believes the celebrations should highlight the history of Latino contributions to the United States - from the Spanish conquistadors who discovered and explored much of North America to the Latinos who died defending this country in all of its wars.
"We need to have the tools to defend ourselves," she said. "When someone accuses you of having just arrived on a banana boat, you have to be prepared to tell them that your ancestors probably arrived here before theirs."
Martinez is so committed to documenting the history of Latinos in this country that she spent the summer gathering old photographs, art, letters, and other artifacts for "A Community on the Move," a library exhibit tracing the migration of Dominicans to New Jersey.
Sonia Araujo, assistant director of the 12-branch Jersey City Public Library, believes in using "a little finesse" to educate people who make insensitive comments.
"The only way you fight that kind of ignorance is through education," Araujo said, adding that the library will present an array of activities that will serve that purpose. "When you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, you do it not only because you are proud of your culture and your community and of being Hispanic, but because you also want to introduce people [non-Latinos] to your culture, your history, the food, the music, the language."
It's an awkward month, covering the second half of September and the first half of October. It was designed that way to include Sept. 15 and 16, the days of independence for most of Central America and Mexico, and the Oct. 12 discovery of America.
"In the past, our heritage celebrations were mostly fiestas," Romero said. "But now they involve book fairs, art exhibits, music and poetry recitals, political and historical forums. This month is very educational, both for Latinos who want to learn about each other and for non-Latinos who want to learn about us."
Romero heads a committee that is not only planning this year's parade - to be held Oct. 5 along Hudson County's Bergenline Avenue - but a series of Hispanic Heritage events, including a Catholic Mass, a cultural show, a dance contest, and conferences on Spanish poetry and literature, empowering Latino voters, and Hispanic women in the United States.
"It's no longer just a time to worry about floats and parades," Araujo said. "It has become much more educational and something to be proud of. It has become a way to not only acknowledge what Hispanics have done, but for the Hispanic community to interact with the politicians, the community agencies, and the rest of the population. This is also an opportunity for agencies, the cities, the politicians, to show the Hispanic community the resources that are available to them."
Working with schools on Heritage Month programs, Araujo said she has found only one drawback. "It falls too close to the beginning of the school year," she said, "and then teachers and students don't have that much time to prepare like you would for Black History Month, which is in February."
Nevertheless, many school activities are planned well into November. "Here in Passaic, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage in November, and as it is, we don't have enough time to prepare," said Maureen Blanos, a self-described "gringa" who speaks Spanish and heads the English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education programs at both Lincoln Middle School and Passaic High School.
She said the two schools have Hispanic food festivals; student dances; display cases featuring Latino authors, leaders, or historical figures; and assemblies featuring community folkloric groups and some student performers.
"We also have bilingual daily announcements talking about Hispanic individuals in all different areas of achievement or about all the different Spanish-speaking countries in the world," Blanos said. "We need to celebrate Hispanic Heritage because a large majority of the students here are Hispanic and we have so many children here who need role models to look up to. They need to be aware of Hispanic contributions."
Many local governments and other institutions also stretch the festivities through the end of October and beyond. For example, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney will proclaim Oct. 16 as Hispanic Heritage Day.
The proclamation will be issued at 4 p.m. in the Board of Freeholders meeting room at 1 Bergen County Plaza in Hackensack, where the county's Hispanic American Advisory Commission will host its annual Hispanic Heritage cultural show and present awards of excellence to Latinos.
Among many other city, county, and state events, at 3 p.m. Tuesday Governor McGreevey will host the opening reception of the Hispanic Heritage Month art exhibit at the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, 31 Clinton St. in Newark.
And today, the governor will issue a proclamation recognizing that Latinos - one of the fastest growing minority groups in the state - "have made and continue to make immeasurable contributions to the social, cultural, and economic fabric of the Garden State" and "will be playing an increasingly vital role in our social, economic, and political affairs in the coming years."
||Hispanic Heritage Month Calendar
Today - Library Open House. The Hispanic Branch of the Jersey City Public Library, known as "La Biblioteca Criolla," is offering introductory tours of its collection of books in Spanish and having a library card registration drive. 280 First St., Jersey City. (201) 547-4541.
Sept. 18, 6 p.m. - Opening Reception, Newark Public Library's 2003 Hispanic Heritage Celebration. Keynote Speaker: Dr. Daisy Cocco DeFilippis, provost and vice president at the Office of Academic Affairs at Hostos Community College and author of "Documents of Dissidence: Selected Writings of Dominican Women." 5 Washington St., Newark. (973) 733-7772. Web site: www.npl.org
Sept. 18-Nov. 15 - Exhibit: "A Community on the Move" - tracing the migration of Dominicans to New Jersey. Sponsored by the Conference on Dominican Affairs at the Newark Public Library, second floor gallery. Library hours: Monday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 24, 6-8 p.m. - Panel on "Latin Working Woman: Are We Taken Seriously?" Sponsored by a student organization, Latinos United Networking America (LUNA), at the Paul Robeson Campus Center of Rutgers University, Newark Campus.
Sept. 27, 2 p.m. - Dominican Dances. The Ballet Folklrico Dominicano of New York in a colorful and vibrant presentation of the various types of traditional Dominican dance, such as mangulina, carabin, zapateo, Compadre Pedro Juan, and other types of contemporary merengue music. Newark Public Library's Centennial Hall.
Sept. 28, 5 p.m. - Hispanic Mass. San Agustin Church, 3900 New York Ave., Union City. Hosted by the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. (201) 854-0149.
Sept. 29, 4 p.m. - Crafts workshop. Learn how to make a pair of maracas, or rather "Rice-a-Racas," using tubular rolls, rice, and a little paint. La Biblioteca Criolla, 280 First St., Jersey City. (201) 547-4541.
Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m. - Poetry and Literature conference. Union City Public Library, 324 43rd St., Union City. Sponsored by the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. (201) 854-0149.
Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m. - Seminar on the power of the Hispanic vote. Bruce Walters Recreation Center, 507 West St., Union City. Sponsored by the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. (201) 854-0149.
Oct. 1, 2:30-4 p.m. - Panel on "Is Education Enough for Latinos?" Sponsored by LUNA at the Paul Robeson Campus Center of Rutgers University, Newark Campus.
Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m. - Conference on "Hispanic Women in the United States." Fomento Club, 522 38th St., Union City. Sponsored by the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. (201) 854-0149.
Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. - Night of Folklore. Show and dance contest. Red Sea Grill, 6122 Bergenline Ave., West New York. Sponsored by the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. (201) 854-0149.
Oct. 3, 7 p.m. - Hispanic Parade Banquet. Radisson Hotel, 350 Route 3 West at Mill Creek Drive, Secaucus. (201) 854-0149.
Oct. 4, 2 p.m. - Dance Program. KR3T - Keep Rising to the Top, a New York-based, Latino urban dance troupe specializing in hip-hop, reggae, jazz, salsa, merengue, and mambo styles of dance. Newark Public Library's Centennial Hall.
Oct. 4-5 - Farmers Market. The City of Paterson sponsors its first annual Farmfest, a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. There will be multicultural entertainment and cooking demonstrations. Paterson Farmers Market, East Railway Avenue. (973) 742-1019.
Oct. 4, 7 p.m. - Cultural Show. Music and dance from various Latin American countries. Park Theater, 560 32nd St., Union City. Sponsored by the Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey. (201) 854- 0149.
Oct. 5, 8 a.m. - Hispanic Parade Gala Breakfast. Las Palmas Restaurant, 6153 Bergenline Ave., West New York. (201) 854-0149.
Oct. 5, 11 a.m. - Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey, along Bergenline Avenue from 80th Street in North Bergen, through Guttenberg and West New York, to 32nd Street in Union City. (201) 854-0149.
Oct. 8, 2:30-4 p.m. - Panel on health and education: "Hot and Spicy: Latinos & Sex." Sponsored by LUNA at the Paul Robeson Campus Center of Rutgers University, Newark Campus.
Oct. 9, 6 p.m. - Colombian Architecture. Exhibit of 57 posters featuring the winning entries to the XVIII Colombian Architectural Biennial 2002. There will be a reception, sponsored by the Association of Colombian Architects of New York and New Jersey. Newark Public Library's Centennial Hall.
Oct. 13, 4 p.m. - Film screening. "Como Agua Para Chocolate - Like Water for Chocolate," a romantic fantasy set in the early 20th century about a young couple blocked from marrying by the demands of her cold and selfish mother. To be near his love, the young man marries her sister, and she expresses her passion for him through her cooking. La Biblioteca Criolla, 280 First St., Jersey City. (201) 547-4541.
Oct. 16, 4 p.m. - The Bergen County Hispanic American Advisory Commission presents its 11th Annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration. There will be cultural show and the commission will present recognition awards to Latinos who have excelled. County Executive Dennis McNerney will proclaim Oct. 16 as Hispanic Heritage Day in Bergen County. Freeholders meeting room, 1 Bergen County Plaza. (201) 336-7403.
Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m. - The Mara DeCastro Blake Community Service Awards Dinner. Sponsored by the Newark Public Library's New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center to recognize the contributions of three distinguished Hispanic leaders. Tickets are $60. Seabra's Rodizio, 1034 McCarter Highway, Newark. (973) 733- 7772.
Oct. 18, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. - Senior Citizens' Social. Multicultural lunch, Latin dancing, and music and poetry recital. Sponsored by the Bergen County Division of Senior Services, Department of Human Services at the Americas Unidas Senior Center, 133 River St., Hackensack.
Oct. 18, 2 p.m. - Dance Program. "Flamenco Latino!" a fiery music and dance troupe presents a broad repertoire of Spanish and Latin American dance forms. Newark Public Library's Centennial Hall.
Oct. 23, 9 p.m.-1 a.m. - "Latin Night Bash" - a Hispanic Heritage Month Closing Celebration. Sponsored by LUNA at the Paul Robeson Campus Center of Rutgers University, Newark Campus.
Nov. 1, 2 p.m. - Children's Theater. "The Encounter of Juan Bobo and Pedro Animal" - two charming but not too bright young folktale characters from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic find themselves in sticky situations until they turn to the audience for help. Children participate in this circus-style play. Presented by the Society Educational Arts, Inc. at the Newark Public Library's Auditorium.
Nov. 15, 2 p.m. - Meet the Author. Journalist Sandra Guzmn, former editor in chief of Latina magazine, presents her critically acclaimed book, "The Latina's Bible: The Nueva Latina's Guide to Love, Spirituality and La Vida." Co-sponsored by Latinas United for Political Empowerment at the Newark Public Library's Auditorium.