¡Viva! Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and the communities integral to the Wasatch Back

In the lobby of the Park City Library, a life-size "Alebrije" of a bear with wings, created by Clara Amezcua at the Latino Arts Festival using papier-mâché, welcomes visitors. The sculpture, as well as a Latin American flag trivia activity, will be on display during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Katie Hatzfeld/Park Record

Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off last week on Sept. 15 and will run until Oct. 15. But what does this mean for our small, mountain-town community?

“Hispanics are an integral part of the culture and society that we have in Summit County,” said Daniel Thurston, the senior Spanish services librarian at the Park City Library, whose job hits close to home. “I love that I’m able to use my native language of Spanish and elements from my culture to enrich the lives of those around me and provide services to others in my community.”

Hispanic, a term referring to people whose ancestry goes back to Spain, is often interchangeable with Latino, which refers to ancestry rooted in Latin America. For these communities, “herencia” has two meanings: heritage and inheritance. It’s an idea that looks at the values and contributions of past generations, and simultaneously looks forward for ways to honor and bless future generations.

Hispanic Heritage Month, established in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, provides a designated opportunity to recognize the value and significance of these often-marginalized communities. 

“During this time, we celebrate the culture and histories of various Hispanic cultures from Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean and Central and South America, as well as the contributions and impact of the more than 60 million Hispanic American and Latinx people in the United States today that make up almost 20% of the population,” said Thurston.

“Many may not realize that Hispanic people have been in Utah since the 1500s, when Spanish explorers came to the area,” said Thurston. While there were no permanent settlements, exploration had a significant impact on the area, as seen in many names of Spanish origin found in Utah, he said.

“In Park City, there were very few Hispanic people before 1990. Looking at census data, the number of Latinx people in Park City jumped from 123 in 1990 to 1,448 in the year 2000,” said Thurston. 

But now the Hispanic population in Summit County is the largest minority group of the state, said Thurston, as people have moved to the area driven by jobs or faith and are now raising their families here. The Park City School District website shows that around 20% of their students are of Hispanic origin.

Hispanic Heritage Month’s dates coincide with several independence days for Central American countries. Sept. 15 marks the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates its independence day on Sept. 16, Chile on Sept. 18, and Belize on Sept. 21, said Thurston. Also during Hispanic Heritage Month, Día de la Raza, or “Day of the Races,” is a holiday on Oct. 12 celebrating the unique mixing of cultures, the mestizo character, of Latino communities.

For Thurston, this is an exciting opportunity to share the beauty, importance and needs of his community. 

“My job as senior Spanish services librarian at Park City Library requires an intimate knowledge and understanding of the local Latinx community, which makes up around 30% of the population of Summit County,” he said. 

Food, music, art, history and stories all fall under the umbrella of culture, and Thurston’s work at the Park City Library seeks to elevate those elements within Hispanic culture. 

At ¡Viva!, an event held Sept. 16, his team offered a taste of Hispanic culture to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month.

Snacks from Latin American countries, like candied nuts called Garrapiñadas and fruit leather called Pulparindo, were provided; Flamenco guitarist Jared Antonio García Lyons performed live music; a recreation of the Cry of Dolores, the historic call to arms that triggered the Mexican War of Independence in 1810, was performed; books written by Hispanic authors, like “Solito” by Javier Zamora, were gifted; and a life-size “Alebrije” of a bear with wings, created by Clara Amezcua at the Latino Arts Festival using papier-mâché, greeted visitors in the lobby.

“Latin America is far from a monolith,” said Thurston. “The cultures of Mexico, for example, are quite different from my mom’s native Argentina some 5,000 miles away. I am the son of a Latinx immigrant, born and raised in the United States, so that allows for even more diversity in lived experiences.” 

To continue to highlight the various facets of Hispanic heritage, Thurston and the Park City Library will feature a Day of the Dead ofrenda running from Sept. 29 and leading up to Día de los Muertos, “for all to share memories or draw pictures of loved ones who have passed away,” said Thurston. 

To close out Hispanic Heritage Month, the library will collaborate with Park City Film for a screening of “In the Heights” on Oct. 14 at 4 p.m. “The film will be shown in Spanish with English subtitles,” said Thurston.

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