Sept. 15 marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) and ends on Oct. 15. Throughout the 30-day period, people whose ancestors are from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America celebrate their cultural heritage and historic and current contributions to the United States and their respective countries.
Before I dive into the ever changing controversies of the month, I shall inform you of the history.
The cultural celebration began as Hispanic Heritage Week by President Lyndon B. Johnson, but changed to a month-long celebration in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. The month would include Día de la Raza, or Columbus Day, and the seven independence days for Latin American countries: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua (Sept. 15), Mexico (Sept. 16) and Chile (Sept. 18).
What does Hispanic and Latino/a/x mean?
Hispanic is a term used to describe a person who has descendants from Spanish-speaking countries, whereas a latino/a/x is a term used to describe a person who has descendants from Latin American countries. For example, someone with Brazilian descent is latino/a/x but not Hispanic because their official language is Portuguese. However, someone with descent in Spain is Hispanic but not latino/a/x because Spain is not located in Latin America.
Latinx recently came to rise as a gender-neutral term used to describe people of Latin American origin. Additionally, Chicano/a/x, Afro-Latino/a/x , Boricua, bico/a/x and Blaxican are some of the many terms used to identify specific identities within Latin Americans and Hispanics.
As you may or may not have realized, the term Hispanic does not include indigenous groups, Brazilians, Haitians, Jamaicans and other Latin American nationalities simply because Spanish is not their official language. This distinction leaves these groups out of the month-long celebration.
However, some may argue that, although the indigenous groups and non-Spanish speaking countries do not fall within the term “Hispanic,” their cultures are still celebrated throughout the month. If this is true, should the month be renamed using more inclusive terms? Not only was HHM established by the United States (US) Americans, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” derived in the US to group Latin American ethnicities and Spanish speakers into one category.
This complicates who is celebrated during this month and challenges whether to rebrand the holiday and use a more inclusive term besides “Hispanic”. Others feel overwhelmed by the plethora of terms used to identify Latina Americans and Hispanics and suggest Latin American history and cultural awareness in curriculum.
The Celebration of Latin American and Hispanic Diversity
In a New York Times article, Saudi Garcia, a racial justice activist and facilitator for the conflict resolution organization In Cultured Company, explains the importance of shifting HHM celebration to include the differences in race, culture, language and class within Latin America.
“The work in the ’70s was gaining some visibility as a community of immigrants. Now the work is turning to combat the negative beliefs within our own Latinx communities here, such as colorism and anti-blackness,” said Garcia. “Hispanic Heritage Month should go beyond mere celebration, and instead focus on intercommunal conversations that will move our communities forward.”
As a Chicana, or Mexican-American, I have been at the forefront of a term intended to group different nationalities together. Instead, it feels like the term creates barriers and division within Latinx and Hispanic communities.
For example, on social media platforms, I witness some people who identify within the Latinx and Hispanic communities share negative opinions towards the recent Haitian migration to the US.
Regardless of their political affiliation on the issue, the negative sentiments stem from racism and discriminations against Haitians. There is a clear lack of community during a month where we should come together, learn and embrace all of the diverse cultures.
This is just one example of the many negative beliefs practiced within Latinx and Hispanic communities, as mentioned by Garcia. However, these negative beliefs go beyond using these terms.
Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to explore, educate and celebrate the diversity of Latin America and Hispanics, including Black and Indigenous groups. One way to do just that is to identify a person by what they are comfortable with, whether that is a gender-neutral term or their respective nationality.
With that being said, Albion College is hosting various events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month:
- Sept. 29, 7-8:30PM: Documentary- “Latino Beyond Reel: Challenging a Media Stereotype”
- Oct. 1, 7-9PM: Salsa Night in the Kellogg Center Stack
- Oct. 8, 7-8PM: Loteria Bingo in the Kellogg Center Stack
- Oct. 12, 7-8PM: Speaker, Maximo Anguiano in Norris 101
- Oct. 14, 6-8PM: Fiesta de Independencia in the Kellogg Center Stack