Hispanic Heritage Month Is Meant To Celebrate Spanish-Speaking Cultures, But What Does That Mean In The Age Of Trump?
This week is the start of a month long commemoration of Latino culture as Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, kicks off across the U.S. Compared to Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month starts in the middle of a month. This is due to September 15 and 16 marking the independence days of Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The annual observance started back in in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson’s administration as a one-week celebration called Hispanic Heritage Week. It wouldn’t be until years later that President Ronald Reagan proposed extending this celebration into a month-long event. On Aug. 17, 1988, it was put into law officially designating the 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.
But in the age of Trump where anti-Latino sentiments run high, what does this month truly represent beyond just a marketing opportunity for companies to cash in on our culture?
For the next few weeks, Latinos will be at the forefront when it comes to “representation”. In other words, Latinos will be involved in marketing campaigns, corporate social media accounts will attempt to tweet in Spanish and sugar skulls will be all the rage at your local Target. That’s Hispanic Heritage Month in 2019 and something doesn’t seem right about that.
The problem with Hispanic Heritage Month is that it represents almost everything that our culture isn’t about. That starts with the name itself, Hispanic, which came into use after the 1980 Census to refer to Spanish and Latin American descendants living in the U.S. It’s this lumping of all Latino people under the Hispanic umbrella, whether it applies to us or not, that is problematic. It leaves out countless of groups of people like those who identify as Afro-Latino or Indigenous that are constantly overlooked or never given any representation whatsoever.
Beyond just the name, the question of it’s purpose and its meaning in this day and age also comes into play. In reality, most Latinos don’t need a month to be acknowledged or be at the forefront of a marketing campaign to feel accepted. Most celebrate their cultural pride every single day.
Hispanic Heritage Month was created by and promoted by the U.S. government to show that we “arrived” as people in this country. Yet in the 31 years since HHM started, Latinos have more than just arrived. We have made ourselves at home and have contributed to U.S. culture, science and art in ways that deserve more than just a month when brands pander to us.
While some look at Hispanic Heritage Month as a time to celebrate maybe it can serve a better purpose by letting us tell our own narrative for once.
The purpose of Hispanic Heritage Month needs a reboot rather than some faux-celebration about ethnic representation. Instead, the month should focus on how to move our communities forward and how we can share our own narratives and stories.
For a population group that makes up 18.1% of the total U.S. population, representation has been hard to come by in recent years. The majority of this visibility has been succumbed to President Trump’s antipathy towards Latinos and demonization of migrant groups coming from the Southern border. Then came Aug. 3, when a shooter inspired by the President Trump anti-Latino rhetoric killed 22 people in El Paso. The deadly shooting sent shock waves to Latino communities across the country and placing fear in the minds of many. While this isn’t the first time Latinos have been targeted, the attack represented divisiveness that has once again reared it’s ugly head.
Yet instead of living in fear, the best response can only be one of visibility and solidarity. The truth of the matter is that Latinos never needed government validation or permission to share our heritage, no matter what month of the year it may be.
Rather than waste a month grasping onto what others perceive us as, we should embrace our own stories and bring to light the issues we face everyday. In reality, no month long celebration will ever validate our experiences or our stories. But as long as we have the platform, let’s make the best use of it and share our own narratives for once.