by Reyna Estrada / Sports Editor
Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, which reignited a question that has lingered over me for years—what does it mean to be hispanic? This question often embodied itself as a soft voice whispering in my head convincing me that I could never truly fit within my own culture. For as long as I can remember, I have felt the need to prove myself, both to those in my own community and outside of it, as if just because I didn’t embody the precise definition of a “traditional” Mexican woman, I didn’t deserve to align myself with my culture. I’m the lightest one in my family, and while I do think it should be acknowledged that there are certain privileges that come with passing as white, I constantly felt like an outsider looking in at my own family and community.
But the thing is, culture is not some tangible and easily defined concept. Culture transcends way beyond skin color and stereotypical depictions of how a certain group should behave or appear. Culture is community, the ties you have with others, and the traditions. For me, culture is my Abuela and Abuelo telling me stories of their childhood. Culture is my mom pulling my hair into a tight bun and ushering me onto the stage to perform Jarabe Tapatío, often dubbed “the Mexican hat dance,” for my folklorico dance group. It’s family, its food, and it is beautiful. I grew up ingrained into my Hispanic culture and I should never feel the need to justify that. And yet, I am sure that I am not alone in these thoughts.
The idea that there is one specific way culture should be carried out is a toxic depiction of reality. According to the 2018 United States Census, 18.3 percent of the US population is of Hispanic descent, making this the largest minority group in the country. In Chicago, Hispanics are the second largest minority group, making up 29 percent of the population. Within this larger group, there are different and diverse expressions of culture and the diversity within the group should be acknowledged, which one of the goals of Hispanic Heritage Month.
This month of celebration was initiated in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson as a means of acknowledging the history, culture and contributions of those from hispanic descent. Hispanic Heritage Month holds grave importance—especially in today’s political climate—yet, it is not granted nearly enough attention.
The aspects of Hispanic heritage that are known in American society are often painted over with a white brush when its appealing and demonized otherwise. Fun celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos are fully embraced and often commercialized in American society, taking away from the actual significance of the holiday. Meanwhile, at the same time, the Hispanic community is often victim to negative rhetoric at the hands of the nations’ own president, and many others who view Hispanic culture as an attack on “American” ideals.
Some public figures have gone as far as to argue that Hispanics should assimilate fully into American culture. Tom Brokaw, an NBC correspondent once said, “I also happen to believe that the Hispanics should work harder at assimilation. That’s one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time,” according to RealclearPolitics.com. While he later apologized, these types of comments diminish the importance of celebrating one’s culture, and present a negative connotation surrounding the Hispanic community. These types of statements are not atypical in mainstream media, and for far too long, Hispanics have been demonized for celebrating our own culture. America cannot claim certain aspects of Hispanic culture and attack their culture and personal expression at the same time. They cannot borrow Dia De Los Muertos parties but demand that we don’t speak Spanish in the same breath. Hispanic Heritage Month works to shine light on this fact and put the narrative back into the hands of this group while continuing to create a greater understanding and knowledge of Hispanic culture and history.
Despite the relatively large proportion of Hispanic population in the United States, there is a lack of great understanding of Hispanic heritage and culture, as it is something that is not typically taught in schools. This is highlighted often in media’s presentation of the Hispanic community, particularly through the current anti-immigration rhetoric presented by President Trump. With such a large voice, this can be harmful and even dangerous. In August of 2019, a shooter in El Paso murdered 22 people after posting a ‘manifesto,’ online discussing fear of a ‘hispanic invasion eroding white society,’ much of his rhetoric mirroring president Trump’s.
While President Trump did not pull the trigger himself, his constant villainization of the Hispanic community is normalizing false and harsh perceptions of us. Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to rewrite this narrative in a more authentic and accurate way that shines a light on the importance of Hispanic culture and history.
Additionally, Hispanic individuals are often underrepresented in the media. According to a Pew Research Poll, 77 percent of newsroom employees are white compared to the 65 percent of all US workers, making news reporting one of the least diverse fields.
News and media is one of the ways in which individuals are able to make sense of the world and understand their own role within it, and if Hispanic people are not adequately represented, how are they to have a good, positive understanding of their identity? How many young Latinos look at mainstream media only to see a ugly depiction of their own communities?
This is why Hispanic Heritage Month needs to be talked about. We need to change the perception and rhetoric regarding the Hispanic community. We need to expand diversity inside of the newsroom and outside of it. We need a greater understanding of Hispanic heritage and history. Maybe then, one less Latino will not be forced to see their community tarnished and misunderstood time and time again. We need Hispanic Heritage Month because Hispanic culture is beautiful and important, and no Latinos should be made to feel as though it isn’t.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment