By Adela Ramos & Paola Guzman
Some 14 percent of college students identify as Latino/Hispanic, according to collegeboard.com. There are 6,224 undergrad students. We were only able to find two professors who identified as Latino. In honor of Hispanic Heritage month taking place from Sep. 15 – Oct. 15, we are uncloaking Niria Leyva-Gutierrez professor, art-lover, Cubana-Americana.
Professor L-G as the students call her, is an assistant professor of art history and museum studies. Leyva-Gutierrez is an art enthusiast and enjoys artwork from the 17th century including, Diego Velázquez and Peter Paul Ruben. But her favorite things about teaching are the students. She recalls the last time she took students to a museum on a field trip and was touched to see that a handful of students have never been to a museum before.
Leyva-Gutierrez describes the experience of visiting museums as a “turn on switch for your brain” and guarantees you’ll leave with a “new set of eyes.” She has been teaching for 16 years and is going on her fifth year at LIU. She did her undergrad at Tufts University and obtained her Ph.D. at NYU Institute of Fine Arts.
Leyva-Gutierrez grew up in Tampa, Florida, surrounded by Cuban-Americans like herself. Both her parents immigrated from Cuba at a young age; forcing them to drop out of high school. When asked about any adversities she has had to face being Latina, she said she was one of the lucky few whom did not face racism or discrimination. However, there are many other obstacles than xenophobia.
Leyva-Gutierrez is a first-generation college student. She grew up in a bilingual home with her two sisters, however, like most Latino first-generation students, parents may know nothing to very little about the college process in the Unites States. She recalls being on her own when it came to filling out college applications. Frustrating as it can be, she has always remained proud of her culture and where she came from. She thinks embracing your culture is very important, and even double-majored in Spanish Lit to further understand her culture and language. Leyva-Gutierrez has two kids who she tries her best to ingrain the Cuban culture and Spanish language into, the same way she was taught.
For whatever reason, the small presence of Latino/Hispanic students and faculty is saddening and unfortunate, according to Leyva- Gutierrez. “We should have a larger presence on campus.” Especially with the off-putting remarks presidential nominee Donald Trump has said about Mexicans and the Latino/Hispanic community, Leyva-Gutierrez believes, “latinos are starting to realize how strong a voice they can have.”
There have not been any events recognizing Hispanic Heritage month on campus. However, there are other ways to celebrate the Latino/Hispanic culture this month. You can pick up some Salvadorian pupusas or the Mexican beverage, aqua de horchata; listen to the sensational Cumbia music of Selena, and head over to some museums exhibiting Latino/ Hispanic artists. The celebration of diversity is always beneficial.