Naomi Mellema— Staff Writer
Blooming tulips, wooden shoes, and almondfilled pastries are iconic cultural symbols in Northwest Iowa. However, Dutch celebrations are not the only prevalent cultural celebrations in the area. Hispanic culture and traditions are celebrated during Hispanic Heritage Month, which is Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 every year. This nationally recognized celebration began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, then became a month-long celebration in 1988.
Sioux Center Middle School hosted the Mexican Cooking Night held on Sept. 29. Open to the public, a local resident born in Guadalajara City, Mexico, held the event to teach residents about Hispanic culture through cooking.
Hispanic Heritage month celebrations have grown as the Hispanic population in Sioux Center has increased. Almost doubling in the past ten years, the Hispanic population increased from just over six percent of the population in 2013 to almost 12 percent in 2020, according to Data USA.
Hispanic students currently make up 2.5 percent of Dordt University’s total student population, according to College Factual. One Hispanic student, Jessica Hernandez Vargas, plays soccer and studies elementary education at Dordt. Deciding on a college is an important decision for anyone, but especially important for Jessica. She is a first-generation student in her family and wanted to stay close to them, especially her brothers, who live in Sioux Center.
“Having two younger brothers has really changed how I look at things,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t want to leave them and have them feel how I did growing up. I wanted to be able to help them and my mom. Dordt welcomed me with open arms and has continued to offer me new opportunities with amazing people.”
Recently, Hernandez helped at the secondever Latino Visit Day on Dordt’s campus. This visit day gave Hispanic students and families the opportunity to tour the campus, learn more about Dordt, and consider future enrollment at Dordt.
Another recent event, this one aimed towards currently enrolled Dordt students, taught attendees about Hispanic culture through dancing. Latin dance classes were held on Sept. 28 by Alex Vasquez, the Director of Diversity Initiatives at Dordt. These classes helped celebrate and bring attention to Hispanic Heritage month and Hispanic culture.
A few miles from Dordt’s campus, Pella Corporation in Sioux Center, is also influenced by Hispanic heritage. Within the past two years, Pella has begun a bilingual training program, providing Spanish speakers the ability to work at Pella without knowing English. Currently, Hispanic employees make up about 40 percent of Pella’s employees. Maria Salcedo, one of Pella’s Bilingual Training Coordinators, believes that diversity in culture contributes a lot to the company, and allows employees the opportunity to learn from one another.
“Being bilingual and having the ability to have both [Spanish and English] employees trust me in terms of interpretation and translation means a lot,” Salcedo said. “Not everyone gets the opportunity to do what they love. I love my job because my heritage helps me to help other Hispanics.”
Photo Credit: Dordt University