National Hispanic Heritage Month Events Spotlight Immigrant Experiences

October 19, 2023

Text reads "Latin Heritage Celebration" with boxes illustrating Latin American country flag colors.

A discussion about two best-selling books focused on Central American immigrants to the United States were the anchor for School of Business diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) events during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

In a related activity in late September, students joined Interim Chief Diversity Officer Leo Moersen, an associate professor of accountancy and business law, for a guided tour of the “Presente!” exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino. Pending construction of a brick-and-mortar museum, its exhibits are housed in a gallery at the National Museum of American History on the National Mall. 

“We have several goals,” Moersen explained. “There’s always the goal of building community when we get together to talk, but there’s also the goal to learn more about the experiences of people who come from different cultures. It helps to build understanding.”

The Oct. 18 book discussion highlighted Isabel Allende’s novel, "The Wind Knows My Name," and Javier Zamora’s nonfiction book, "Solito." The in-person event at the School of Business also featured food from El Salvador and a video clip of Zamora interviewing Allende. It was open to faculty, staff and students.

“The books look at the experience of  immigration … as well as the people who work to help refugees assimilate,” Moersen said. “Through these books, you also learn a lot about the psychological effect of being an immigrant in the United States.”

Allende’s novel tracks the lives of two immigrant children, one forced to leave Europe in 1938 and another fleeing violence in Central America in 2019. Zamora’s memoir—his debut book and a New York Times bestseller—follows his nine-week journey from El Salvador, across Guatemala and Mexico, to the United States as a 5-year-old.

As for the Sept. 29 visit to the Smithsonian museum exhibit, Moersen said the GWSB students who took part “were very engaged and asked a lot of questions.” The exhibit documents the stories of immigrants from Latin America over centuries of history, and how they have shaped the United States. “Some immigrants are fleeing war and violence; others are motivated by economic hardships. Many decide to immigrate to access education and a better quality of life for future generations,” the online version of the exhibit explains. 

“The exhibit also documents how immigrants arrive at our shores, the dangers they take and their contributions to our culture,” Moersen said.  

Moersen said the Dean’s Diversity Council is continuing its strategy to plan events in conjunction with heritage months. “Two Novembers ago, we focused on Native American Heritage month. A professor who is an expert on Native American history talked about the origins of Thanksgiving and the Indigenous people who took part in that fictionalized event,” he said. He noted that School of Business events are designed to complement DEI-themed activities held across the GW campus.   

Learn more about the GW School of Business Dean’s Diversity Council.