By Krystle Danuz
“La fe mueve montanas”; faith moves mountains. With this message in mind, El Grito, the Mexican cry of independence from Spanish rule was yelled out in 1810. Beginning in mid-September and running through Oct. 15, Hispanics all around the world are celebrating independence, freedom and justice.
A cultural event on campus hosted by Professor of social work, Dr. Jose Martinez, honored the president for the Heart of Texas chapter of The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and community leader, Jose (Joe) Landez for his contributions to the Hispanic public. Also honored was director and treasurer of the Multi-Ethnic Cultural and Arts Association (MECA), Dr. Daniel Kott, for his continuous work in cultural music and dance education.
Martinez spoke of Hispanic holidays that are integrated into the American culture and thus have created a unity between Spanish and Texas customs.( Of the main Hispanic cultures that are unified with the state is that of Mexico.)
Martinez said that Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican national holiday that commemorates victory over the French army, for example, is celebrated throughout Mexico and America because 60% of all Hispanics are Mexican-American.
The celebration is received all over the world because “We (Latinos) recognize each other as far as our heritage is concerned. We appreciate each other,” Martinez said. But Cinco de Mayo is more than an anniversary of independence.
“The significance is … the idea that some people that are poor, sometimes powerless, can accomplish and can achieve,” he said, “in particular, against those who are powerful.”
Joe Landez is helping to educate individuals about Spanish cultures and expose the contributions, which he feels have often gone unnoticed, made by Latins in American history.
“I do have a story, and I do have a passion,” Landez said. “As I was growing up down the Rio Grande Valley (in) McAllen, we felt, I felt, we were not Americans. We refer to other folks that are not Mexicans as Americanos. … with that negative self-esteem, we were conditioned to believe that we were not part of the system. I thought of myself as a non-Americano.”
Landez soon came to the realization that he, too, was American, but his Hispanic culture that was a part of his identity was being underrepresented in society. Mexican stereotypes were abundant, and he thought he was looked at negatively.
“My passion began to ignite about me and my “raza,” my race,” he said.
After spending 18 years in the Army, Landez was drafted into the race relations field where he learned a great deal about Hispanics and their largely overlooked participation in American history.
“We were there from the beginning,” he said. “There were a lot of major contributions made. Once you learn, you wonder ‘Why is this part of history being hidden?’ We were not mentioned in my education in my schooling.”
Landez wanted to change the negative and disregarded image of the Spanish culture. He continues to expose assistance made by Latinos in American history under the plank of LULAC and has added to the education of the cultural awareness through numerous television and radio shows.
Daniel Kott, who is not Hispanic, is also aiding in this expansion of knowledge through cultural expressions of song and dance. MECA brings together performers from all races into a multicultural organization that showcases Ballet Folklórico.
“I’m an international folk dancer,” he said. “I’ve studied Hispanic dances and music for probably over 30 years. I’m teaching third generation children in the United States the dances from their country that they’ve never, probably, even been to.”
Ruby Williams is a dancing performer who is a graduate of the university. She has been with the company for five years and started her dancing career as a child. Williams performed two dances at the campus event, one of them being Calle de Gallo, illustrating Mexican culture and values through rhythm and movement.
“It’s interesting how these dances come to be and are brought into the next generation,” Kott said. “It’s a very joyous, glorious music.”
Martinez, Landez, Kott and others are continually working to improve the image of the culture.
It is a constant battle to make sure all Spanish cultures are being well represented, treated fairly and justly honored for the contributions they are making to better the lives of those around them in their native countries as well as the United States.
“In the past, my patriotism was tested,” Landez said. “I defended what America stands for — fairness, justice. I’m trying to promote, trying to expose the contributions Hispanics have made to this wonderful country. That’s my America,” Landez said. “I do it for my country, mi país.”