When Hispanic Heritage Month was established, it was with the idea of recognizing the contributions of Hispanic-Americans (as our community was known) to the United States. Since the term “Hispanic” was a government construct to group a very diverse group of people, other concepts such as “Latino/a” have been used. We understand that not all Latinos/as are Hispanics, and that any terminology used to group our community is going to fall short. Latin America is an extremely diverse region. Our ancestors are Indigenous, African, European, Asian, and every combination thereof. There are hundreds of different languages spoken throughout the region. Our histories, cuisines, faiths, values, and every aspect of culture are different. Hispanic Heritage Month is supposed to celebrate this diverse group of peoples, highlighting our contributions to the larger US society, of which Latinos/as have been a part since before the United States was formed as a country.
Yet, for some groups within the Latino/a community, Hispanic Heritage Month can be a reminder of how cultural hegemony erases diversity and identity. The challenge of celebrating a diverse community that does not fit the clear, simple, and binary definitions of the majority Euro-centric American culture reduces Hispanic Heritage Month to a celebration of whichever Latin American cultural heritage is most prominent in a particular context.
There are many causes for cultural hegemony. Our own brains try to minimize the use of energy by categorizing things around us in the simplest ways. Culturally, we try to group people as to make it easier for us to understand them.
If we want to go back to the origins of Hispanic Heritage Month we can hold on to the core of its purpose: to celebrate the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos/as to the USA. Here are some ideas on how your agency, nonprofit, church, workplace, or any other group can expand their offerings to celebrate our comunidad.
Don’t assume. Ask! It is so simple. Even if you are of Latino heritage, ask around to find out more about the Latino/a community in your area. Ask us what would be meaningful to include in any celebration of our cultures.
Learn. Learn about our cultures through literature, film, music, etc.
Expand the celebrations. Be intentional in including cultures outside of those prominent in your area.
Have fun! Whether we call it pachanga, farra, parranda, juerga, fiesta, pary, bembé or whatever other word we have for it, Latin parties are filled with joy and celebration.
The solution to cultural hegemony is being visible, vocal, and proud of our individual cultural heritage and the many mixes of heritages created in the United States. Our Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations should be expansive and always expanding. Let’s make every effort to create welcoming and diverse celebrations that honor the richness of our Latin cultures. Let’s proudly and very visibly reclaim our herencia!
A full version of this essay can be found at https://tinyurl.com/3enypfky
About the Author
J. Manny Santiago is the inaugural Executive Director of the Washington State LGBTQ Commission, appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to serve in his cabinet in August 2019. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he currently lives in the ancestral lands of the Puyallup peoples in Tacoma. Having studied Sociology, Theology, and Public Administration, Manny has been involved in social justice causes from an early age, serving on various committees and workgroups related to religion, Latinidad, sexual identity, immigrants’ rights, and their intersection both at the local and international level.