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Hispanic Heritage Month

by Ana Villanueva

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the lives, culture, and contributions of the 62.1 million Hispanics in the United States, and those that came before them. It’s an opportunity for the Latinx community to share their stories and acknowledging not only the rich history of the Latinx communities, but also the importance of their role in the US. 

We sat down with one of our designers, Ana Villanueva, to hear her thoughts on ways in which we can build an inclusive industry and celebrate the role Hispanic architects have played in shaping modern architecture and city skylines.  

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? 

To truly understand the significance of Hispanic Heritage month, it’s important to change the way we refer to it. In 1988, when Ronald Reagan signed the bill to extend the celebration from a week to a month, it was viewed as a step towards visibility. Since 2019, people have been requestioning the use of the word of “Hispanic” due to the term referring to Spanish language, which is not inclusive to the entire community. Referring to the month of celebration as Latinx Heritage month embraces the totality of the Latin American territory, discarding language barriers. 

What has been your personal experience as a minority designer? 

Having very recently moved to the US, there are significantly more conversations around inclusion and diversity. As a foreigner, there is always a fear of not “fitting in” the new social fabric due to background, language, accent, and many other factors. For architecture, I didn’t only learn a new language but also a new metrics system as we do not use the imperial system in Peru. However, I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have met supportive people since my first day in this country and been amazed by the resources and groups that exist within the industry.  

Our previous CEO, Carole Wedge, has been an amazing mentor to me and actually shared a book, “Latinas in Architecture” by Alicia Ponce, that shaped my career. The book includes inspiring stories of Latina architects in the US and shares the statistic that as of 2021, there were 121,997 registered architects in the US, with only 20% being licensed women architects. Reading this book and learning of this statistic provided me the with motivation to continue my pursuit towards earning my licensure in the US.  

How can the AEC industry build a more inclusive environment for the Latinx community? 

Even though Latinx encompass 18% of the US population, they are still a small minority within the architecture industry, and even smaller for women. Having resources and groups, like Latinos in Architecture and NOMA, exist within the industry allows Latinx designers to feel supported and provides an opportunity to mentor and guide others.  

It has to go beyond a “Taco Tuesday” celebration with colleagues. Latinx Heritage Month is a great way to further diversify cultures, cuisine, art, and language within the Latin American territory. The month of celebration should be seen as an opportunity to invite your Latinx colleagues to talk about their countries, their family tree, and their favorite local architects, and artists.  

I’m grateful to be a part of the Latina community within the industry and look forward to increasing the presence of Latinx and women architects and designers. My hope is that each year the holiday becomes a safer space to share more Latinx stories. 

Who is an influential Hispanic architect that has inspired you? 

Isabel Castilla is a Puerto Rican landscape architect who worked as the lead designer and project manager for the High Line at the Rail Yards, in New York City. Located between West 30th and 34th streets and Tenth and Twelfth avenues encompasses many notable features including the 30th Street Grove, the Rail Track Walk, and the Eleventh Avenue Bridge, which is surrounded by gardens. I’m inspired by Isabel because as a Hispanic architect she created a design that has become an icon of American contemporary landscape and has inspired others to redevelop and reinvent obsolete infrastructure.

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