Throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, Austin Community College District (ACC) sits down with influential and accomplished faculty and staff to discuss what Hispanic Heritage Month means to them.
Meet Dr. Gary Moreno, ACC's new director of the Latino/Latin American Studies Center, also known as El Centro.
What do you do at ACC?
This is my first semester at ACC and I look forward to many more. I teach U.S. history and a course on Mexican-American history. I also serve as the director of the Latino/Latin-American Studies Center, also known as El Centro. We have great things in store, including a fully remodeled office space and an extraordinary collection of books concerning Mexican-American history. My job includes providing outreach and building relationships with Latino students so that we can all prosper as a community.
Why is it important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? How do you celebrate your heritage?
It is important for us to celebrate Hispanic heritage because in the past, and in many communities across this country, our heritage has been used against us. We must reclaim it and celebrate it not only for ourselves but for others to see that we are proud of who we are.
We are coming up on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and one of the things that I recently started doing is making an ofrenda (an altar) to honor my departed family members. It started when my grandfather passed away from complications due to Parkinson's disease five years ago. This was never practiced in my household so I had to learn all the aspects of the tradition on my own. I think for many of us, recovering what we have lost, or what we have never known, is key to establishing who we are or who we want to become.
What advice would you give to our Hispanic/Latinx students?
Your journey is going to be long and difficult. It requires becoming acquainted with adversity to the point of finding comfort in the challenge. Wake up every day knowing that things are probably not going to go as you envision them and have a plan B when they don't.
What is your biggest inspiration?
Inspiration can come from many places but when things are rough, I often think about my father's journey to this country as a poor undocumented kid who didn't speak English. Nothing I face today can be that hard and if he overcame that (and prospered!) then I too can overcome whatever obstacles are before me.
What is your proudest achievement?
I always envisioned myself working with Latino students and now I have been given that opportunity. More so than earning a Ph.D. or publishing a book, becoming director of El Centro ranks at the top of my list of personal achievements. My only hope is that I make you all as proud as the position merits.
How do you foster an inclusive environment?
The exchange of ideas is key to fostering an inclusive environment. You can't do that if you automatically judge someone when they walk through the door. In turn, people won't walk through your door if they think they will be pigeonholed or spoken to as though they are a nuisance. I offer an open door to all students at ACC, and an open ear that is ready and willing to pay attention to their concerns. I am not here to judge, only to listen and learn because ultimately everyone has something to teach you.