Author: Damian Mendieta
Sept. 15 marks not only the independence celebrations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, but also the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month. For those who identify as Latino/a or who simply hail from Latin America, this commemoration brings out a month-long upholding of traditions and culture. However, since it’s inception under President Lyndon Johnson and signing into law by President Reagan, this 30 day-long remembrance of Latin American contributions to the United States has also inadvertently sought to honor the “discovery” of Mesoamerica by European sailors. The term ‘Hispanic’ makes many Latin American folk quake with rage and pain as they feel the lash of European conquest strike through past centuries into the present day.
There are several problems here with Hispanic Heritage Month. First of all, the name itself uses the word “Hispanic.” The label not only restricts a variety of people in one umbrella term but it also pays homage to La Española, or what the Spanish renamed the Mesoamerican lands that they conquered and enslaved in the 16th Century. Murder, rape, and epidemic soon ravaged 90 percent of the Indigenous population, thereby paving the way for European white hegemony to become an institution.
Why, then, must the celebration of Latin American culture be limited to only a month? One could argue that Latina/o history and heritage is an integral part of this so-called “American” history. After all, brown folk were here, in this area now called Los Angeles, long before an “American” set foot claiming it in the name of the stars and stripes. Mexico was unrightfully taken over by American settlers that defended their western expansion with some ridiculous excuse known as Manifest Destiny.
One can now see how American history is founded on Latin American history. For centuries longer than a constitutional United States has existed, brown people have lived in the Southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Nearly an entire people have been obliterated from our history books and the United States is too often depicted, instead, as a herald of civilization. Remembering Latin American heritage is important, but we must do away with ignorance and highlight the uncomfortable truth of the U.S.-Latin American relationship.
Why is it that brown people were boxed into a Hispanic label by conquering Americans? If anything, those people who made their homes in what was once northern Mexico have greater reason to call themselves America. The word “American” has come to represent the United States, but it excludes every other nation of the Americas. To the Latina/o and Native American, Manifest Destiny is an insulting reason to explain why their lands were stolen and their people hunted down. Then, to be called Hispanic makes oppression even more evident in today’s supposedly post-racist society.
In no way is this an attack on groups that strive to bring attention and honor to the Latina/o community; rather, it’s an advocacy for more awareness and remembrance about the hardships that Latina/os face in the United States. Many organizations and individuals do put in the effort to raise awareness for issues concerning the Latina/o community during this month. However, too often do these important events get blown in the wind as soon as Oct. 15 comes around. There must be greater understanding that the heritage of Latin Americans must be ongoing and enduring.
While this might seem like a bashing of American policy, it is merely an outcry from someone who loves his country enough to point out its mistakes. The United States attracts many Latin American immigrants with the promise greater of economic security; but heritage should not take a back seat as immigrants and their children are wrongfully encouraged to assimilate to “American” culture. While some may think that a color-blind society will fix racial and ethnic oppression, it must be made clear that the acknowledgement of heritage goes hand in hand with acknowledgement of the color. The nation should strive to be a post-racist society but not a post-racial one. If one neglects their brown or black identity, then one also forgets that centuries ago, horrific oppression took place in the United States.
For the millions of recently-arrived Latin American immigrants and their children, Hispanic Heritage Month is even more bewildering because this celebration restricts cultural celebrations that are normal in their households. Instead of laying a concrete foundation of brown pride, Hispanic Heritage Month makes Latin American culture an exception rather than the norm. Valued tradition and history are celebrated for one month, only to then be cast aside.
If this still seems like a confusing claim, ask a white person if they would like a “White Heritage Month.” Hopefully then you might see why a brown person may not want one either.
Damian Mendieta is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]
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