As Hispanic Heritage Month,Sept. 15-Oct. 15, approaches, I find myself more introspective than ever. At this time last year, a slew of federal immigration policies that brought fear and confusion to the Hispanic community had been announced. It seemed vital at the time to spotlight many of the positive contributions of the nation’s Hispanic community.


Today, we’re in a pandemic and a national reckoning on racial injustice is afoot. We must now dig even deeper to find the way forward. Local traditions, especially those that bolster cultural understanding and embrace our city’s diversity, can play larger, more meaningful roles this year if we all take time to honor the people and history behind them.


Don’t miss the chance to look beyond the festive atmosphere to truly connect with others in the community who might also be feeling a bit more introspective these days.


Celebrate Dieciséis


Annual Dieciséis events celebrating Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16 won’t look the same this year. However, just because we can’t gather in large groups doesn’t mean we can’t still build community.


Organizers this year have blazed new trails, bringing us creative ways to celebrate the holiday.


• Viva México (6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 16): This free festival hosted by the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center returns in a completely virtual format and will be streamed via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and VivaMexico2020.net. Roen Salinas, founder of the Aztlan Dance Company, will lead the way as the master of ceremonies. Count on the beloved music and dance performances that have made this a popular festival throughout the years, and be on the lookout for the debut of new festivities.


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This year’s celebration will explore the idea of the grito, or cry for independence, originally delivered in 1810 by Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. That grito rallied Mexicans to stand up for the country’s freedom from colonial rule. But what does a grito mean in 2020? "There are calls of action from the community, passionate voices to be amplified and diverse interpretations of freedom and independence," according to the cultural center. As part of the festival, Austinites are asked to upload a video of their grito – however they choose to interpret it today – to social media using the hashtag #VivaMexico2020 or to email submissions to maccevents@austintexas.gov. Austin’s Mexican Consul General Pablo Marentes will close out the festivities with a re-enactment of the now-famous cry for independence.


Go to VivaMexico2020.net for the detailed schedule of events.


• Saltillo Day 2020 + El Grito (starting at noon on Sept. 15): Two popular events highlighting Mexican culture joined forces this year to present a new virtual festival that brings the best of both fests together. Saltillo Day, an annual event toasting the international relationship of sister cities Austin and Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico, will now incorporate Mexican Independence Day activities that typically were held at the Texas Capitol.


The reimagined event, sponsored by Austin-Saltillo Sister Cities and Univision, features various interactive games and activities, such as a live Spanish-language lotería card game on Zoom and a virtual wine tasting led by Coahuila-based sommelier Diego Hernandez. The tasting focuses on wine from Saltillo’s neighboring town of Parras de la Fuente, known for being home of the oldest winery in the Americas. The wine can be purchased in advance. Austinites also can learn how to prepare a special Saltillo-area dish called a discada via an online cooking class.


All events are free and open to the public. Advance registration is required for the interactive events, and attendees will receive an email with instructions on how to participate. Musical performances and an online tour featuring the extensive art collection of the Austin Friends of Folk Art group don’t require registration.


In the evening, Marentes, the consul general, will deliver a reenactment of the grito, which will be televised by Univision. Learn more about the schedule of events and find registration information at austinsaltillo.com.


Central American cultura


Although many in Austin focus on Mexican culture during Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s not forget that several Latin American countries also celebrate their independence days in September.


Hispanic Heritage Month began more than 30 years ago, when President Ronald Reagan expanded the nation’s Hispanic Heritage Week. Kicking off the monthlong celebration in mid-September was especially significant because Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all share Sept. 15 as their Independence Day. The people of Chile celebrate theirs on Sept. 18.


At the Mexican American Cultural Center, the festivities go beyond Dieciséis. Make sure to check out Guatelink, the virtual festival celebrating Guatemalan and Mayan culture. We don’t often get many opportunities to learn about Central American traditions in Austin, so don’t miss this chance. The Sept. 15 festival will feature everything from a Guatemalan cooking class to a beginner-level Mayan language class. Other activities include a traditional Guatemalan kite-making workshop, ballet folklórico performances and an interactive marimba recital. Updates will be posted on VivaMexico2020.net.


Celebrating Central American music has been one of Salvadoran singer-songwriter Mauricio Callejas’ missions since founding the annual Centroamericanto Fest. Over the years, the festival, which starts at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19, has showcased many influential artists from the Central American region.


Featured artists for the free streaming event include Pen Cayetano of Belize, whose blend of traditional Garifuna music and modern rock has given the Belizean Garifuna community a global platform. Be sure also to check out Mai-Elka Prado of Panama, who founded the Afro-Latino Festival of New York. Prado has collaborated with many high-profile artists, including Colombian superstars Bomba Estéreo. To RSVP and see the full lineup, visit cacfest.com.