It's Latinx Heritage Month at Hotchkiss! To celebrate members of the community who proudly identify as Latinx, Latino, Latina, or Hispanic, the Diversity and Inclusion Office has partnered with affinity groups to present a series of virtual events highlighting their rich traditions, cultures, and accomplishments. The program kicked off Sept.16 with guest speaker Jonathan Andrew Peréz ’00.
Peréz is a senior assistant district attorney at Kings county District Attorney’s Office in New York, where he works on social justice initiatives. He is also an activist and a poet, whose latest book, Cartographer of Crumpled Maps, speaks to America’s cyclical injustices. Peréz, the Alum of the Month in February 2020, has been involved in law policy and critical race theory. He is also an instructor at Wesleyan University teaching structural inequity and critical race theory.
Peréz talked about the huge diversity in Hispanic heritage. It is important to understand that “Latinx culture is self-creating,” he said. “If you are at Hotchkiss and identify with it or don’t identify with it, there has to be a space for creativity, where Latinx people can grow and have their own narrative,” he said.
Latinx refers to people of Latin American origin or descent and is used as gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or or Latina, Chicano or Chicana.
“When I was at Hotchkiss I was not seen as Latino, I was like a “white” Latino,” he said. “At the same time, my Dad had been in and out of homeless, and he had been touched by economic inequities, and so I very much identified with structural racism,” he said.
Peréz found his own narrative, ultimately his own voice, through writing. “The way I changed my perception and reality was through writing a book on “Waiting for Godot” from a Latinx perspective. It was kind of like a hip hop version, but I needed to write, and honestly for everyone here, you need to write to get your identity out. That's how you get the creative space to start to learn and reconnect.”
He stressed to students that although there is much work to be done for the Latinx community, this should be a time of healing, which should be followed by a call to action. “You know, you don't have to be a legislator to have a policy change. It could literally be how you're speaking the lexicon you use. It could be organizing social justice events. Or it could just simply be a narrative shift of how you consider US history.”
"It's important to have a political consciousness. You can make a difference,” he said. He emphasized that although Latinx heritage is diverse and that this is the time to promote growth alliance, and most importantly, creativity. “Creative thinking is the most important thing I learned from Hotchkiss,” he said. "Creative thinking is not just in an art room. It includes anti- racist and structural equity work everyone can do.”
He also fielded questions from students, including why so many Latinx people are demonized in the media. About such stereotypes, he said, “We could all try to change that by changing our lexicon, like, making sure we don't think that way. Or if we do, we just stop ourselves and expand our consciousness and expand our empathy,” he said.
Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated Sept.15-Oct.15.