In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Pleiad is publishing an opinion article each week that explores topics related to Hispanic and Latinx identity and culture. This week’s article is the fourth of four articles. The previous installment can be read here.
The heritage that I inherited from my family was a simple one. It was so simple that I could not explain to you what it means to be Mexican-American. From birth until I was 16 years old, I knew very little about where my family came from. Mexico, as far as I was concerned, was a place my family left in the hopes of a better life in the United States.
In high school, when the time came for my sophomore class to choose what courses we wanted to take during our junior year, I selected one that placed an emphasis on both Latin American and African American studies. The class would be divided into two parts: in the fall semester, we would be focusing on Latin America and how the United States played a role in this region of the globe, while the spring semester would place an equal emphasis on African American heritage.
In the end, the second semester would be an unfulfilled promise. Our teacher took up a new position and was unable to keep teaching the class. A part of me wishes that she had been able to finish the school year with us, but I feel the need to make it clear just how thankful I was to have had the fall semester to learn about my heritage.
It was in that moment that I truly realized just how limited my grasp on my heritage was. For the first time in all my years of public education, I had been introduced to the fact that Latin Americans fought in every major conflict that the United States has been a part of.
Other topics, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars, were given more time than what would typically be afforded in a standard US history course. We didn’t limit discussions only to the most immediate of topics. Mexico, while recognized as a meaningful portion of Latin America, wasn’t the emphasis of the class. As thankful as I was for that broad view of the region, I still craved something more. A semester did not feel as if it was enough.
Every year, between the dates of Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month here in the United States. We take this time to remember how this country has never been a nation that was built off the efforts of one particular race and ethnicity. We also remember the efforts of Latin Americans in building this country, whether in the context of our history or in our modern times. Alongside this, we recognize the history of Latin America and the shared history that all Latin Americans have.
Oftentimes, US history classes will make an effort to include a more modernized and expanded view of our nation’s history by including additional narratives of groups previously ignored. This is a decent introductory point if the goal is to be inclusive of other communities and their perspectives on the matter. However, we should not use such cases as justifications for why we shouldn’t have dedicated courses year-round that provide an in-depth analysis of a community that has historically been on the fringes of society.
The United States’ history has consistently glossed over the harm it has done to its citizens and to foreigners. One of the many reasons we celebrate different races and ethnicities, with months such as Hispanic Heritage Month or Black History Month, is to reflect. This is a period of time that the country can acknowledge the harm it has done to marginalized communities in the past and how its current institutions will continue to harm those on the fringes of society.
A month is simply not enough time for us to discuss Latin America. It isn’t enough time to discuss any one group of people. If a semester left me feeling as if it wasn’t enough time dedicated to the topic, how can we expect one month to meet the same requirements of providing an in-depth look at a specific community? Latin America is one of the largest and most diverse regions on this planet, both in terms of environment and in people, and only a month for such a storied people is a disservice.
Hispanic Heritage Month shouldn’t have to be the beginning and the end of an introduction to a community and its culture. A month is far too short of a time frame to do so. Year-long courses focusing on Latin American Studies should be commonplace, alongside courses placing the emphasis on other marginalized communities as well.
This country should pride itself in its diversity, and show the strengths in its heterogeneous culture. Celebrating a culture once a year for a month is a good starting point, but Latin Americans haven’t been a part of the US for only a fraction of the country’s existence. As such, we shouldn’t only be celebrated in such a manner. We deserve to feel seen in our classrooms, not as accessories to the United States’ history, but rather as individuals with our own stories to share with the rest of the country.