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Hispanic Heritage Month. Are We Being Boxed In?

October 04, 2021

Today we want to talk about the saga of the good, the bad and the Latinx.

We’ll talk about the celebration that put us in a box even though we still don’t know what Census box to check when we’re asked about our ancestry.

That’s right: It’s that time of the year again when Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated.

It is a time when all of us, Latinx or not, could take some time for personal reflection about our relationship with diversity and get to know more about our rich Latinx culture, of course. But don’t you think it should be much more than that? 

Aren’t we so much more than our stereotypes—those stereotypes created by the same institutions that tried to define our identity? Their intentions may have been good, but there are dangerous consequences for our culture and for each one of us.

The U.S. celebration of Hispanic Heritage started in 1968 and was expanded to a full month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. In theory, it was a great initiative as it provides recognition of the contributions of both Hispanics and Latin Americans to the United States. However, in recent times, opinions regarding the relevance of this celebration have become divided. 

The Good

There is no doubt Hispanic Heritage Month serves as the perfect opportunity for Latinx to celebrate and learn more about our history. As unbelievable as it sounds, a lot of adults, including Latinx, are unaware of our many contributions to this country. This was never taught at school when we were growing up. 

It also asserts that we have been here for generations, helping shape this nation. We have been not only an important economic force, from the humblest workers to the most successful professionals and entrepreneurs, but we have also contributed to its cultural fabric.

Another important consequence of observing Hispanic Heritage Month, is the resulting studies, analyses and publications, particularly the ones developed by the Pew Research Center. These provide the latest key facts about the nation’s Latinx population, including geographic location and characteristics like language use and origin groups.  This data shows how we Latinx have evolved and where our strengths and weaknesses lie as a group.

We can all agree that this is a good thing. 

 But, wait. We are not a group, we are not even just Hispanics and we are not only talking semantics here! For one, we are not a monolithic group (we sound like a broken record, but it’s true!), and yet by the way this celebration has been evolving, it is projecting an image of a uniform and static culture.

 The Bad

 When “white american” institutions talk about the tremendous impact Hispanics have across all aspects of culture and progress in the United States, it often sounds like a cut-and-paste copy of tired feel good statements, one of many clichés (Cesar Chavez social posts anyone?). It even sounds a little condescending. It’s as if we’re still regarded as a minority that has maybe a handful of people worth remembering. 

 Moreover, for some Latinx, the word Hispanic has evolved from an already controversial catch-all word that represents all races and ethnicities—except the white one of course—to a frankly discriminatory word. It exacerbates the divide with the so-called white Hispanics, who often no longer represent the many nuances of the Latinx living in the USA that are proud of their multiracial and multicultural roots, as reported by axios.com and commented by latinainstitute.orgThat language tends to perpetuate the artificial divide between the different colors of people as if one color were better than the next.

Another issue is that as late as 2020, more than one marketer have equated this month of celebration with food, music and a couple of celebrities -and even with tacos, salsa, and sombreros like the infamous Twich campaign – as if those were the only things that are relevant to Hispanics. 

Marketers seem to just be checking a box with this pseudo-commitment to the segment, having a few Latino focused events for this month. Because many Latinx don’t know about or don’t care much about Hispanic Heritage Month, and marketers see it only as a short-sighted business opportunity, this celebration is losing out on many positive possibilities. Fortunately, some marketers are waking up and urging others in the industry to do the same with meaningful actions.

The Latinx

It is time we, as Latinx, decide what we want to achieve with the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Enough of lumping together 62 million people with complex identities under a single umbrella. As an adult community, let’s measure up to the real challenge. 

It is incumbent upon us to make this opportunity grow beyond mere celebration. 

  •     Let’s focus on inter-communal conversations to move our communities forward.
  •     Let’s promote donations, grants, or scholarships from marketers that will help our communities thrive.
  •     Let’s find resources from individuals and organizations that are making a difference today.
  •     Let’s promote school programs that reflect historical problems, the historic struggles of Chicanos, Latin Americans, and the many other Latinx that through the years have helped us achieve more social justice; programs that show we are not strangers in this country. 
  •     Last but not least, more than anything, we need to strengthen civic leadership and political participation – let’s use this month to plan a whole year strategy on how we’ll be tackling Latinx issues and advance Latinx causes. 

We have the power to end paternalistic celebrations and to belong to the mainstream. 

As we like to repeat, we are a force that needs to be recognized. So let’s fight for this together and let’s keep this and other discussions going on our weekly podcast episodes by subscribing to your favorite platform here.



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