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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

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November 2018

Diversity Speaker Series honors Hispanic Heritage Month

NIEHS honored National Hispanic Heritage Month Oct. 16 with a special talk, titled “Many and Diverse Voices and Colors Enhancing Our Traditions: Celebrating Hispanic and Latino/a American Culture, Heritage, and Contributions.”

The institute’s Diversity Speaker Series invited NIEHS Scientific Review Branch Chief Alfonso Latoni, Ph.D., to speak. “We’re extremely fortunate at NIEHS to have someone like Alfonso in our midst to speak with us today,” said Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the institute’s Office of Science Education and Diversity.

Alfonso Latoni addresses a crowd Latoni previously worked as a deputy review chief for the National Institute of Aging in Bethesda, Maryland. His research has focused on public health with an eye toward social and political change. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

One month, many voices

Latoni opened his talk with a brief history of Hispanic heritage, then followed by dispelling many of the myths that non-Hispanics have about the culture.

“Historically, most people of my ethnicity were lumped into one category — Hispanics,” said Latoni, a native of Puerto Rico. “Of late, however, we’re seeing more of a concerted effort, especially by social scientists, to break that group into subgroups in hopes of better reflecting the unique culture and traditions of each.”

Gerard Roman and Chris Long listen NIEHS Executive Officer Chris Long, right, and National Institutes of Health Principal Strategist Gerard Roman listened as Latoni reflected on the contributions of Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Latoni described three very different groups individuals referred to as Hispanic may be part of.

  • Hispanic — Anyone possessing a native Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry.
  • Latino/Latina — Persons with origins or ancestry stemming from countries in Latin America, such as Mexico, Honduras, and Brazil.
  • Spanish — Natives of Spain.

“The empanada is a wonderful metaphor for illustrating this point,” Latoni said. “Globally speaking, you’d be hard pressed to find a more commonly recognized staple of Spanish cuisine. And yet depending on where you are, your experience with the empanada may vary wildly.”

He explained that some cultures fry their empanadas, while others bake them.

Some empanadas are made with chicken, while others are made with beef or seasoned pork. Meanwhile, some are made with no meat whatsoever. “All are called empanadas in their respective regions, but each one brings its own unique flavor and style to the dish.”

Latoni closed his talk with a brief YouTube video of a woman quizzing passers-by about Hispanic culture.

Showcasing culture

Launched in early 2018, the NIEHS Diversity Speaker Series seeks to broaden employees’ understanding of the contributions made by groups underrepresented in the sciences, and celebrate their uniqueness.

“The scientific community is a spectacular reflection of the many voices and traditions that comprise American society,” said Reid. “This series gives us a platform to spotlight those voices at our institute, while educating others outside about their contributions to the field of public health.”

Ericka Reid speaks from a podium Reid welcomed the audience to Rodbell Auditorium, then led into her opening remarks. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)


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