Latinx communities in Idaho need to be recognized beyond Hispanic Heritage Month

Illustration by Kelsey Mason

A time to celebrate culture, honor tradition and reflect on the Latino’s community history of struggles, victories and stories is what Hispanic Heritage Month is about.

Hispanic Heritage Month extends from Sept. 15, through Oct. 15. Idaho’s population of Latinos makes up 13% of the state. The Hispanic Profile Data Book for Idaho for 2021 preface states, “The growth of Hispanics in Idaho continues to outpace any other population group in the state.” 

The report shows that 24% of Idaho’s population growth over the last decade is attributed to the Hispanic community, is responsible for 31% of K-12 school enrollment growth in the last five years, and has boosted 31% in employment growth in the entire state. 

This year, the Idaho Commission on Hispanic affairs held an event on Sept. 15 at the State Capitol to officiate the start of the celebration of Hispanic heritage for the month. On Sept. 23, the Idaho State Museum hosted a community day event called ¡Fiesta! that was free to the public and swept up attendees in expressions of hispanic culture from performances to food vendors. 

Uplifting the widespread Idaho Hispanic community through city events is a good gesture to make, but there are deeper problems in the cultural and historical representation of Hispanics in the gem state through education. 

Josie Althen, a freshman elementary education major, is a member of the Organización de Estudiantes Latino-Americanos club (OELA).

“Idaho as a whole needs to be educated about Hispanic culture,” Althen said.  “I remember not knowing at all that Mexico was involved in the creation of America until High School, which is a scary thing, because we start learning about the creation of America in literally the third grade.” 

Mónica Esquivel, a sophomore studying graphic design, is the marketing and promotions officer from OELA. She explained her own experience regarding hispanic education in Idaho as well. 

“It would be nice to be something more than a footnote. Because sometimes we don’t even make it into the history lesson,” Esquivel said.  

Mayahuel Godinez-Gonzalez, a freshman majoring in computer system engineering, is a new member of OELA. “It’s just like a brief history lesson. When I finally heard about other countries or even Mexico, I just went to the textbook to read more about it even if it wasn’t my homework assignment,” Godinez-Gonzalez said. “I wanted to know more, so I asked my parents about it. It’s interesting how much a person doesn’t know about it, because they are not teaching it.” 

OELA’s mission statement states that as a campus club their goal is to, “increase higher education opportunities within the Latinx student population” and “promote cultural awareness.” 

Jimena Cisneros, a junior studying human resources and president of the club, seeks to continue the work the club has done since 2012, engaging with potential Latino high school students to encourage them to pursue higher education. 

OELA puts on other welcome events, holds weekly meetings and collaborates with other campus clubs like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Multicultural Greek Council to foster relationships and celebrate shared diversity and identity.

Project Dream for Tomorrow (DFT) is the keystone event OELA focuses on.

“In years past we brought high school students, minority Hispanic background students… here on campus to resources…these students, we got them from Nampa, Caldwell, even all the way in Idaho Falls,” Cisneros said.

The entire event is based on volunteer week, and is completely free to participants. DFT guides students on how to file their FAFSA, apply for scholarships and connect students with resources like College Assistance Migrant Program and TRIO Rising Scholars Program

The office of Boise State Admissions, various funding efforts and OELA collaborate together to make DFT happen year after year. Next year in April, DFT will be hosted by OELA again at Boise State. 

“When I found out what OELA does specifically, it really resonated with me….I know how big education is for our community and the things it can do.” Esquive said. 

“My priority is always OELA because that was the first place on campus where I felt like I belonged as a sophomore here,” Esquivel said. 

Ivan Castillo-Teran migrated to the States when he was 19, graduated from Boise State with his GED, and by his own work, determination and intelligence, made his way up in Circuit City Stores to becoming a sales manager of a multi-billion dollar company. 

Castillo-Teranco founded the Idaho Latino Scholarship Foundation through local leadership supported Latino Fest, is a commissioner for the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs and served as a Board Chairman for the Idaho Hispanic Chamber. He is vice president of the CWI Foundation and is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Idaho Hispanic Foundation. His achievements and contributions to the Treasure Valley and the Hispanic community is immeasurable. 

“I’ve always thought that maybe I might not be able to change the whole world but if I change my surroundings, my world changes,” Castillo-Teran said.

The legacy of Hispanic culture and history has been forgotten in education settings. Change is possible, but only when Idaho can fully recognize, respect and honor the tradition of the Latinx community. 

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