National Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off today, September 15, and is observed for the next 30 days. As a Caribbean Latina woman, though, I have mixed feelings about it.
One part of me recognizes the richness, beauty, and value of my ancestry and the many ways in which I wish to celebrate them and myself.
Another part of me — the cautious and cynical side that acts as a defense mechanism against the racial and cultural aggressions we face each day — approaches National Hispanic Heritage Month (NHHM) with skepticism. Will this month’s observance bring real changes to my community?
Being a part of these communities is complex and feels different from person to person depending on geographical, genetic, and racial factors, and also cultural, ancestral, and social ones. For me, as a mixed-race, light-skinned, Venezuelan Argentinean woman living in the Middle East, the nuances and differences in experiences, privilege, and outcomes make the term “Hispanic” feel oddly constricting, as if my favorite sweater shrank in the dryer and instead of bringing me ease brings me discomfort and restraint.
The significance of the month begins with the September 15 anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. It continues with Mexico’s and Chile’s independence days, on September 16 and 18, respectively, and concludes on October 15, shortly after Día de la Raza (also known as Columbus Day) on October 12. (While the United States will observe Columbus Day on Monday, October 11, this year, many Latin American countries recognize the day on October 12 annually.) Traditionally, activities and events are hosted to honor the cultures, contributions, and accomplishments of both Hispanic and Latino Americans throughout American history.
However, in this present moment, these communities have been put at the center of debates about immigration policies, many of which have separated millions of Latinx and Hispanic families from their homes in the United States. In this climate of harmful policies and anti-Latino rhetoric that have driven an increase in hate crimes against our community, I feel that the celebrations should be reframed.
What if this month could truly serve as an opportunity for growth and reparation and not mere celebrations? What would it be like if we could make NHHM a platform for conversation around support and empowerment of our cultures?
I believe this is possible. For me, a proud Caribbean Latina, the conversation around my heritage, race, and belonging has pushed me to do my own anti-racist work to free myself, my community, and my descendants from the labels we have struggled with for so long.
And as a Latina, I welcome allies. Here are some of the ways in which you can join our efforts and fully experience NHHM with an aim of supporting and elevating these rich cultures. ¡Vamos!
While the term “Hispanic” refers to various Spanish-speaking communities overall, including a vast majority of the countries in Central and South America, as well as Spain, there is a whole universe of differences, nuances, and so much more than just a common language. Not all Hispanics are the same, and being Hispanic means different things to each of us, including different dialects, cultures, traditions, and foods. Engage with members of our community with curiosity and genuine interest, and never assume we are identical by region, country, or town.
Understand the differences.
The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino/Latina/Latinx” are not interchangeable: Spanish is a gendered language, so “Latino” and “Latina” are common, while “Latinx” has been adopted as a gender-neutral or nonbinary identifier. You may also hear the terms “Chicano” or “Chicana” from descendants from Mexico. Additionally, many people identify directly with their own or their ancestors’ country of origin. I, for example, identify myself as Caribbean Latina. Part of supporting our heritage is braving the discomfort to ask us what term or identity we prefer.
Check your bias.
If you allow yourself to address the anti-Hispanic and anti-Latino narrative you have unconsciously accepted as true, you can start to rethink the way you engage with our communities, as well as support us wholeheartedly. Cultural and racial biases are normal; it is our duty to recognize and challenge them. You can start with the Implicit Association Test from Harvard University here.
Taste our flavors.
The richness and diversity of our heritage comes with flavors and culinary experiences that can blow your mind — and wake up your taste buds. Join the celebration by cooking or trying something new, like Venezuelan tequeños, fresh Peruvian ceviche, or the sweet and buttery Argentinean pasta frola.
Enjoy our music.
There are countless playlists with the sounds of our communities, so you can explore a rich musical assortment online and through streaming services. I set the tone to celebrate my Latino American communities with Mercedes Sosa, for example. You can also listen to Beat Latino to learn more about our sounds and music.
Listen to our perspective.
There are countless Hispanic and Latino American podcasts bringing a different perception of the world. Try Hollywood in Color, The Self-ish Latina, Two Hispanics and a White Guy, and Tres Cuentos to gain new insights around our stories and ideas.
Support our dreams.
Uplift our communities by supporting, patronizing, and choosing Hispanic- or Latinx-owned businesses, especially family-owned restaurants, bodegas, and shops where every customer and purchase count.
Learn about our world.
Find a breadth of narratives from Hispanic and Latino American authors, including Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ana Castillos’s Sapogonia, and Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Library of Babel.”