During Hispanic Heritage Month we celebrate the culture of over 62 million people living in the United States. That is almost 19% of the US population! According to a recent article from NPR that goes into the origins of the month-long celebration, Hispanic Heritage Month began as a week-long event in 1968 under President Johnson, and then in 1988 Reagan extended it to a month from September 15th-October 15th, coinciding with the independence days of many Latin American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica on September 15th, Mexico on September 16th, Chile on September 18th, and Belize on September 21st. According to the same article, after a lot of debate between many terms, ‘Hispanic’ was eventually added to the 1980 Census, with a goal to unify and quantify the members of this American minority group.
This past month has been a time of reflection on our own Hispanic heritage and identities. I, Sofia, am a white Latina woman. I was born in Argentina to primarily German- and Spanish-descendant Argentinians and came to this country at the age of 6. My background, upbringing, physical appearance, along with many other parts of myself, have put me in a place of privilege. And while I am very proud to be an immigrant and Latina and share many similar experiences with others that identify as such, I don’t share many of the experiences that Brown and Black Hispanic/Latinx folks do, such as police violence and other forms of discrimination.
And I, Julia, am a white woman of Spanish origin, as my parents came to the United States from Spain before I was born. While I share and appreciate aspects of Hispanic language and culture, there are many Hispanic/Latinx experiences that I do not share; and I similarly recognize how my background and identity have put me in a place of privilege.
While we represent two different identities and experiences, we both share some misgivings about the term ‘Hispanic heritage’. The United States has lumped over 62 million people in this country under the single term Hispanic, not fully depicting the diversity of cultures, ethnicities, and experiences that Hispanic people have. The term itself implies an origin to Spain, which erases the history prior to colonization of the Americas, and erases Indigenous roots, African origins, as well as Asian and other European ethnicities that have shaped culture and identity in Latin America. To better reflect these diverse experiences, many increasingly refer to Hispanic Heritage Month as Latino/a/x Heritage Month; or as a month to celebrate more specific Hispanic and/or Latinx identities.
Finally, we both believe that Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate, and also to educate ourselves on issues that are important and relevant to advancing equity and wellbeing in our communities. Things that we (Sofia and Julia) find relevant and important in our communities are:
- Addressing police brutality, as reports show that 36% of Latinx people have experienced an incident of excessive force by law enforcement. While Black or African American people are most likely to experience police brutality, Latinx men are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white men.
- Immigration reform and creating easier pathways to citizenship!
- Increasing representation in the media, including journalism and films. The lack of representation in Hollywood perpetuates negative stereotypes about Latinx people. More diverse and complex stories of Latinx experiences need to be shared.
- Closing persistent wealth gaps between white, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx families in the United States that have roots in educational inequities and systemic racism in our economy.
- Mitigating the economic instability exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent report, Black and Latinx Americans represented a higher share of job losses than white Americans during the pandemic, with unemployment rates around 9% in January 2021.
- Ensuring health care access and coverage, as many non-citizen Latinx people are alarmingly uninsured (23% for lawfully present immigrants and 45% for undocumented immigrants; Also see ICH research on the topic).
- Strengthening Latinx representation at all levels of politics, given that, nationwide, only 1% of federal and local elected officials identify as Latinx.
References in order of appearance: