Music: The celebration begins with an event on the Promenade. Courtesy photo

Hispanic Heritage month kicks off in Santa Monica with a jam-packed agenda of events organized around the themes of “Cultura, Comunidad y Comercio.”

The month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and aims to explore Latino identities and experiences through the lens of culture, community and the economy. The Latino community has a longstanding and influential presence in Santa Monica, where currently approximately 16 percent of residents and 30 percent of staff members are of Hispanic or Latino ancestry.

“A lot of the history is recognizing that this was predominantly a Latino community, and it has changed over the last couple of years, but it still is grounded and rooted in that,” said Steering Committee member Donald Zelaya. “If you look at the Pico neighborhood, in particular it’s recognized nationally as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation.”

The month’s events are intended to educate the community on this history and culture, while elevating and empowering Latino individuals and businesses. Celebrations begin with City Council presenting the Hispanic Heritage Month proclamation on Sept. 14 followed by a kick-off event with music, dance, art, mercadito and speakers on the Promenade on Sept. 15.

Programming continues throughout the month with art, music and film events held alongside activist discussions and a loyalty rewards program that encourages residents to support Latino-owned businesses. The combined offerings are greater in scope and number than any Hispanic Heritage Month in the City’s recent history.

“This is really the City’s inaugural Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Zelaya. “We’re really looking to engage the entire community and build partnerships with various groups throughout the City, so I think this is really the beginning of a new tradition for the City.”

Last year’s heritage month activities were dulled by the restrictions of the pandemic, but according to Zelaya the adversity of Covid-19 was a key driver behind this year’s expanded events.

“I think that (the pandemic) created even more motivation and seeing how resilient the Latino community has been during all this, as being first responders, essential workers, and the impacts of the pandemic on health outcomes, and I think that really drove a collective of us city employees to make this celebration to really demonstrate who we are as a community,” said Zelaya.

One of the key new events this year is the Hispanic Heritage Awards Ceremony that will recognize Latino residents who have made significant contributions to the community. Anyone can submit a nomination until Sept. 24 and the ceremony will take place on Oct. 15 and feature music, dance, a lowrider car show, a job fair and vaccination clinic.

Other notable happenings during the month include a drive-in screening of “90404 Changing” in partnership with the Rooftop Cinema Club.

The documentary-style film explores the history of the Pico Neighborhood in Santa Monica and discusses the forces that empowered and dispersed the vibrant Latino community.

Many Latinos initially came to Santa Monica to work in the Douglas Aircraft Company factories at the airport, which is where the screening will take place.

“We’re going to reactivate this space, this airport, that used to be a space where a lot of Black and Brown folks used to work and now we’re going to reclaim that space to make it a place where Latin families will come and enjoy the space and be brought to this movie that’s about their history,” said Zelaya.

A full list of Hispanic Heritage month events alongside information on registration and on submitting nominations for the awards ceremony can be found at https://www.santamonica.gov/blog/hispanic-heritage-month-2021

Clara@smdp.com