ICC, Academic Commons and Special Collections collaborate in hosting events for Latinx Heritage Month

Julia Koh/The Occidental

The Intercultural Community Center (ICC) partnered with the Academic Commons and Special Collections and Archives to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month Sept. 15 – Oct. 15. Latinx Heritage Month was celebrated through a series of events including a ¡Bienvenidos Mixer! hosted by the ICC and Occidental College’s Latino Alumni Association (OCLAA), a “Writing Authenticity Workshop” with author and illustrator John Paul Brammer, an online specially curated book collection and a virtual historical exhibit covering the intersection between Latinx heritage and LGBTQ+ identities both at Occidental and in NELA.

Cris Sevilla-Pappas, library acquisition resource specialist, curated the book collection which is available online and consists of both fiction and non-fiction books. Sevilla-Pappas said the goal of the exhibit is to ensure that everyone is celebrated and for the available resources in the Academic Commons to be utilized by faculty, students and staff. The curation process consists of canvassing the Academic Commons’ 200,000+ book collection and picking out the varied themes being highlighted under each exhibit, according to Sevilla-Pappas.

Sevilla-Pappas said the exhibit focuses on topics including social justice, discrimination and diversity, while also highlighting other pieces of writing such as one covering the history of rap and comic books.

“So everything is for everyone, not just a specific group and it’s always diverse,” Sevilla-Pappas said.

While it is impossible to truly go through every book in the Academic Commons’ collection, it is an opportunity to display old books as new books for people who had not previously known about them, according to Sevilla-Pappas.

“They’re not new in the sense of [being] newly published but in the sense that they are there and accessible,” Sevilla-Pappas said.

Dale Stieber, Special Collections librarian and college archivist, said the collaboration between the ICC, Academic Commons and Special Collections helps emphasize breaking down the perception of Occidental’s history being a monolith. According to Stieber, the process of curating an exhibit like the virtual historical exhibit — which was organized by Anne Mar, assistant college archivist and metadata specialist, and Jack Trip (senior), ICC equity ambassador — is more complex than picking out items that simply look good on the surface.

“Curating an exhibit means taking the time to read, look, examine and search the archives, and that’s where it takes collaboration,” Stieber said. “Think about what you are finding, it starts at the point of what you are finding.”

Stieber said one has to be very thoughtful about what story is going to be told through the exhibit. Research is an ongoing process that never finishes and work can continue to be done even after an exhibit has been publicized, according to Stieber.

These events were curated for “Belonging in the Academic Commons” (BAC). BAC is an ongoing collaboration between the ICC, Academic Commons and Special Collections which aims to honor national holidays with cultural significance in an informative and engaging manner. Chris Arguedas, director of the ICC, said the idea for BAC originated in 2019 when the ICC was looking for ways to partner with different areas of the college as they honored different identities throughout the year. Despite the remote nature of these events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arguedas said the BAC exhibits translated well to a digital platform.

“Instead of creating a display that would usually be in the library we did so online, so we created a digital archive. So that was really dynamic and the final product was really exciting,” Arguedas said. “We made it work.”

Stieber said the intention behind BAC — creating intellectual and emotional space for students in addition to a sense of belonging at Occidental — undergirds the other events.

“The fact is that we know in the community of archives and special collections there are places of power,” Stieber said. “It’s an effort and it takes a commitment for activism to create the path for folks to feel that they can come in, they can do the research, [that] it’s there for you.”

According to Arguedas, the annual ¡Bienvenidos Mixer! had over 50 attendees and was a successful event that brought together faculty, students and staff. Arguedas said the Writing Authenticity Workshop, hosted in partnership with Brooklyn-based author Brammer, focused on speaking one’s truth as a writer.

“I’m not a writer but there were universal lessons embedded within what JP [Brammer] shared with us about owning your story and honoring the parts of it that maybe don’t feel as exciting but are important,” Arguedas said.

Arguedas said the fundamental goal of these events is to bring people together. He said he hoped students learned more about both intersecting identities and belonging within the Latinx community decades ago through the archival work.

“To take something that maybe they didn’t know before, whether they identify as Latinx or not,” Arguedas said. “And most importantly, Belonging in the Academic Commons is always meant to make folks who attend Oxy — whether they’re Latinx or queer or Black, whatever the case may be — feel like they are a part of this college.”