Rethinking Hispanic Heritage Month: Moving Beyond the Palatable

October 14, 2020 | Texas

By Andrew Martinez

“Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens…” This is how the U.S. government recognizes National Hispanic Heritage Month. While this sentence is only the intro to a much larger website, it captures an unfortunate truth: the United States craves a palatable, summarized Hispanic culture to celebrate only when that culture advances Ameri-centric ideas. Instead of only recognizing the Latinx people that the U.S. deems acceptable, we must embrace all Latinx identities equally.

During Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM), many Americans might remember a few “core tenets” of Hispanic culture: the “ancient” Aztecs, Mexican food, and the “Hispanic is way better than Latinx” debate. While there is plenty of conversation to be had with those three topics (see: Indigenous people who are still alive and oppressed today, the layers of discrimination faced by Central Americans and Caribbeaners in things as simple as food, and Latinx being an all-inclusive term for people who aren’t straight), this focus often reduces a complicated conversation about race and ethnicity to just: ancient history, commercialization, and White-Washing. Consider that most people fail to discuss “ancient” Aztec history that involves the colonization and genocide committed by Spanish, French, British, and Dutch imperialists. Consider that cities like Austin, TX, are known nationally for tacos, even as gentrification pushes Latinx families out of the city. Consider that the word Hispanic was coined in the United States only for the census and continues to be heavily criticized by people it is meant to represent. Still, these are the types of things that we often emphasize for HHM.

The HHM website includes several pages to explore, such as the Images tab. Displayed here are a collection of headshots of members of the Latinx community who are worth highlighting in the eyes of the United States government. Interestingly, 13 of the 15 headshots belong to members of the Latinx community who are wealthy government officials, White, or U.S.citizens. Hispanic heritage, however, is so much more than this oversimplified image. In 2020, as anti-Latinx sentiments rise, we must recognize and celebrate the multitudes of the Latinx identity:  

Everyone who is proud to be celebrated this month should understand that there are millions of people around you, who are very similar to you, who are actively being subjected to some of the worst policies in America. It is not idealistic to say that if the entire Latinx community were to mobilize and fight for each other, regardless of nationality, gender, race, or immigratory status, the community could quite literally accomplish anything. The Latinx community must not marginalize certain members of the community with the hope of being recognized by a dominant, U.S. culture. 

This conversation is personal for me. While I am a first generation American of Mexican descent, I have extended family that has lived in the U.S. for generations. Many older members of my family are quick to exclaim that much of the dialogue surrounding racism today doesn’t seem fair to them. They feel that the “Latino” voice is missing or overshadowed by conversations surrounding Black people in the United States. A common question that I hear is, “where is the march for Latino lives?” 

My response is always the same: there are literally hundreds of campaigns, actions, marches, and protests for Latinx lives! Marches for Black lives are marches for Latinx lives, because millions of Black people exist across Latin America, including in Mexico. Every year across the U.S., there are countless protests calling for undocumented people to have the right to live without fear. Across the U.S./Mexico border, campaigns and humanitarian efforts help migrants suffering as a result of the Migrant Protection Protocol. Indigenous people around the world are fighting to maintain their land – indigenous people with the same roots that “la raza ” is so proud of when they flaunt Aztec symbology on the Mexican flag. Hispanic Heritage Month should not just be about Chicanos, or Mexicans, or 3rd-generation Latinos who are U.S. citizens. The march for Latinx lives is happening every day, all around us, but I didn’t see you there. I hope you can make it next time.