Our Story is an American Story

A Conversation on Hispanic Heritage Month with the Latino Cultural Arts Center

As a Mexican-American, I am proud of my heritage and honor my ancestors who made my life possible. Our story is an American story; my family emigrated from Mexico in search of better opportunities, and many of them settled in a small farming community in Eastern Washington state to work the land and grow our family.

A woman with dark curly, shoulder length hair and round glasses, smiling and standing in front of a building with greenery
Danika Padilla. Photo by Noor-un-nisa Touchon.

I grew up surrounded by Mexican culture, tradition, food and family. Now, I want to share some of that tradition with you to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

Sept 15 - Oct 15 marks the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is a time to reflect and celebrate the cultures and contributions of Hispanic Americans. And by “Hispanic Americans,” we mean those who self-identify as Hispanic. The terms Hispanic and Latino are not quite interchangeable, though many people identify as both - including myself.

First introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month is a period meant for recognition, education, and celebration. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this month honors “the culture and traditions of those who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.”  Spanish-speaking people come from a variety of races, ethnicities and cultures that were colonized by Spain. Additionally, Latinx is not a person who only looks Latin American and speaks Spanish. Many of us come from mixed heritage, and some of us are Indigenous, Black or other races, too.

There are many ways to celebrate, whether it’s sharing experiences, exchanging stories or simply taking time to give gratitude. Many people will celebrate our heritage with food and family dinners. Others will celebrate with music, dance, and art from past and present cultural leaders.

To me, celebrating Hispanic Heritage is about our community. I wanted to recognize the important work of one of Meow Wolf’s non-profit partners, the Latino Cultural Arts Center in Denver, Colorado.

*It’s important to note that not all Hispanics identify with the term Latino or Latinx.*

I’m joined by Alfredo Reyes, who is the Executive Director for the Latino Cultural Arts Center (LCAC) in Denver, Colorado.

Man in plaid shirt and short dark hair, smiling and standing in front of pastel colored multi-story building
Alfredo Reyes, Executive Director for the Latino Cultural Arts Center (LCAC) in Denver, Colorado

Tell us about the mission and history of the Latino Cultural Arts Center.

The mission of the Latino Cultural Arts Center (LCAC) elevates and advances the artistic and intellectual contributions of Latinos - from this world and beyond.

Our vision believes art inspires social change if it is driven by imaginative excellence, cultural courage, and collective impact strategies. We are building a Cultural Campus across central Denver, within the Sun Valley and La Alma Park to preserve a sense of pride, leadership and belonging. The Cultural Campus will eventually include mixed-housing, artist live / work space, museums and galleries, along with retail shops, office space and a restaurant. We harness the power of the creative economy, putting it in the hands of artists, families, youth, and educators.

Architectural Mock up of Cultural Campus on Colfax in Denver. Photo Courtesy of LCAC.

The LCAC could not be more excited to welcome the Convergence Station to the neighborhood - we share a legacy of innovation and social impact across the creative community!

Currently, we are in the middle of a $5 million capital campaign to remodel the first site of the campus: two warehouses we are calling Las Bodegas. They will be home to our digital and visual arts education programs across K-20. These fully renovated warehouses will include a multimedia lab, a printing press and four classroom spaces. Las Bodegas will infuse the local ecosystem with world-class talent through workshops, events, mentoring & capacity-building. It will drive innovation through a mix of cultural arts and workforce development.

We welcome all intergalactic creatives and mixed-planetary families coming through the Convergence Station!

Mock up of Las Bodegas building from the courtyard and entry viewpoints
Mock up of Las Bodegas. Photo Courtesy of LCAC

Why is it important to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latinx people for Hispanic Heritage Month?

Did you know that if Mexico had not supported the Union during the Civil War, the Confederacy would have won? What about the Maya inventing the concept of zero?

Without the commitment to excellence and the countless sacrifices by ALL those earthlings - that are now grouped together under the construct of Hispanic and/or Latinx - the history of this country, and indeed of human civilization, would look very different. It is time we honor those contributions, celebrate and share them. We are the past, present and future of this world and the next.

What does the LCAC have planned for Hispanic Heritage Month?

The LCAC will dedicate Hispanic Heritage Month to mental health and intercultural understanding. Our Day of the Dead program - Ofrendas - is partnering with the Colorado Art Therapist Association, the Escuela de Guadalupe, the Foothills Art Center, Raices Brewery, the Sun Valley Youth Center, and the Mexican Cultural Center throughout the Fall. We invite you to join us during these time honored traditions as we share a meal and enjoy a family moment while creating a personalized piece for your home altar.

One Ofrendas workshop includes building Barriletes (Kites). Every year, giant beautiful kites fill the Guatemalan sky warding-off evil spirits and letting the souls of the departed find their way back home. Made of tissue paper, bamboo, and string, these kites bridge the gap between the realms and reunite us with our departed loved ones. Learn how to make these kites and the Mayan origins of La Feria de Barriletes Gigantes (Gigantic Kite Festival) in Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango, Guatemala.

Another workshop includes crafting Incensarios (incense holders) for Copal incense, which purifies the air and lifts our prayers to the gods so they may watch over our families, even in the afterlife. Known to the Aztecs/Mixteca as the blood of trees, copal has been used since ancient times and serves to link us to the past and to our loved ones. To continue this sacred use of copal we will construct an incense burner and learn how it can be used to welcome the souls of the departed.  

If you are stationed at the Convergence Station, we invite you to learn about the ancient roots of these Mesoamerican traditions, and share in a moment of resiliency, as we grieve and celebrate the earthlings we have lost over the years.

Woman burning Copal incense at an Ofrenda.
Woman burning Copal incense at an Ofrenda. Photo by Jodi Cueto-Fuelgueroso Arocha.

Can you speak about your work to support Hispanic and Latinx artists?

At the LCAC, we focus on art as a community-building practice, as much as an opportunity to build bridges among different cultures and planets. We merge the cultural arts with research and collective impact strategies that have a tangible social impact. Our retail shop for example expands the market for artisanship made locally and abroad.

We are guided by the dynamic identities bounded by Latinidad, a shared heritage that overlaps the Indigenous, Afro, Asian and European. It spans color, faith and creed. At Las Bodegas, earthlings of all ages and backgrounds will find a creative outlet that empowers them with the 21st century skills necessary for a career in the creative and digital economy. Latino, Mexicano, Chicano, and Indigenous artists will be at the forefront of this interdisciplinary, intercultural and intergenerational movement. Our shared pursuit of excellence will bridge differences across siloed and divisive ways of thinking.

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Alfredo Reyes with Tyson Tafoya, National Night Out, in Denver.
Alfredo Reyes with Tyson Tafoya, National Night Out, in Denver. Photo Courtesy of Alfredo Reyes.