Latinx Heritage Month
Photo Credit: Lucas Jackson, Reuters
National Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month is fast approaching – a holiday that actually spans two different months, from September 15 to October 15 each year. For context, September 15 is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico, Chile, and Belize celebrate their independence days on September 16, September 18, and September 21, respectively.
I have the honor of working alongside four Latinx individuals whom represent generational, cultural, and geographic diversity. I am privileged to hear Spanish language spoken around the office, to learn about culturally-specific approaches to anti-violence work, and to be exposed to cultures other than my own on a daily basis. Much of this comfortability across culture has come from true relationship-building among our team. I am truly indebted to my colleagues for any level of trust and vulnerability that goes into building a relationship with an, undoubtedly at-times, ignorant white woman.
When one of my co-workers suggested we write about this commemorative month for our newsletter, I admittedly took it on knowing little about what it represents, who it celebrates, or any of the nuances that come with acknowledging a vast and diverse group of people in a single month. I would like to share with you a little about what I have learned.
Each year, the President of the United States delivers a proclamation for National Hispanic Heritage Month. The president acknowledges the lasting positive contributions that Latinx individuals have provided society. And yet, every other day of the year, anti-Latinx attitudes continue to be reflected in federal immigration-related policy decisions, mistreatment of asylum seekers and migrant children and their parents from Central American countries, White House-directed immigration raids, ongoing U.S. paternalism and degradation of Puerto Rico, and in the overall White Supremacy culture of the United States – just to name a few.
Mala Muñoz, co-creator & co-producer of Locatora Radio, says in 2018 Remezcla article: “Hispanic heritage month, like the term Hispanic itself, has a specific history and political origin. I cannot reconcile the state-sanctioned commercial acknowledgement of a Hispanicized version of our communities with the continuous state-actuated brutalization of the people of Latin America and of Latin American descent who have created lives, established families, built communities, and sought refuge here in the United States.”
The given name “Hispanic Heritage Month” further depicts how our institutions have a long way to go in terms of understanding and respecting the identities of its residents. First, the term "Hispanic" was imposed by the Nixon Administration in 1970 for the purpose of grouping individuals together, rather thoughtlessly, on U.S. Census forms. The term did not necessarily arise from a community of people who embraced this self-identification or unification. In the United States, the word "Hispanic" refers to the Spanish language or people of Spanish-speaking origins. While many individuals prefer the identity "Hispanic," the word is often used incorrectly and interchangeably with "Latino" – a term that refers to people who identify with geographic origins of Latin America.
If you’re interested in learning more about these distinctions and why they matter, check out the following articles:
Second, the term "Hispanic" does not accurately capture the identities of all those whom it intends to celebrate. In an October 2018 op-ed, writer Araceli Cruz explains the problematic history of the word "Hispanic." Cruz writes, “Given definitions like these, it might not be surprising that the United States government has unequivocally lumped all Latinx people under the Hispanic umbrella whether it applies to us or not. Which is why celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month can sometimes leave us indifferent: While it’s supposed to celebrate our culture, it’s also excluding so many others.”
J. Pierce of Stony Brook University echoes these frustrations to Cruz, "'Hispanic' has function and the power to whiten people even though in practice, in their daily life, people might not be read as white or be identifying themselves as white in that particular way… it erases people’s mixed heritages, their families, their stories by making people identify with the whiteness of Spain and the virtues of that particular term."
Pierce and Cruz go on to note how individuals with indigenous heritage, Afro-Latinx Americans, and others are historically not represented by such a term. Despite the pushback mentioned, typing in anything other than "Hispanic Heritage Month" (i.e. versus Latino/a or Latinx Heritage Month) into your Google search engine yields few results.
I cannot sit here and type as if I have inherently known all of this. “White. Non-Hispanic.” These were the boxes I have checked on numerous surveys and forms growing up. My identity fits so nicely in those boxes that I never gave much thought to how my classmates, colleagues, and neighbors were answering those same questions, and if their identities were even accurately represented, portrayed, or acknowledged.
Nothing about my childhood education or experiences would have given me the information I researched for this blog post. It was not until very recently that I truly comprehended the importance of re-educating myself on history, and on reckoning the origins of oppression and its connection to present-day violence. And, that was only because a colleague, and woman of color, took time at work to point it out.
The Latinx community in Iowa and throughout the United States is diverse and the failure on my part to recognize the individual identities of those whom I work with and share community with is unacceptable. Values of dignity and respect are key pillars of the anti-violence movement. As such, I must seek to understand the unique cultures and identities of those who inspire and educate me on a daily basis, and use language that is equally respectful.
Let us not be distracted this September 15- October 15, or any given time of year. We must continue to draw attention to the violent targeting of Latinx people in our country and work for change. I have found it difficult to do this work authentically without first processing the privileges that I hold. The literature I read for this article, and dissecting its gravity, is only a starting point.
And yes, we must also take time to intentionally celebrate, honor, uplift, and listen to Latinx-individuals in our community. Acknowledging the painful realities of our nation while taking time to embrace joy are not mutually exclusive, but rather, both necessary in ending violence.
Events in Iowa:
Latino Heritage Festival
September 28 - 29, 2019 | Des Moines, IA
The Latino Heritage Festival at Western Gateway Park in Des Moines will take place Sept. 28 - 29. The festival provides the public with a family-orientated event full of learning through music, dance, food, children's activities, arts, and cultural exhibits from various Central and South American countries. Click here to find out more.