When “Hispanic” Doesn’t Cut It

Hispanic Heritage Month, as Congress dubbed it in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan, was established as a yearly festivity to celebrate the culture of US residents whose roots trace back to Latin America and Spain. Ironically, the month begins on September 15, the day when five Latin-American countries obtained their independence from Spanish occupation: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. September 16 and September 18, respectively, are the days of independence for Mexico and Chile.

Many Latinos in this country, myself included, have responded negatively to the use of the term “Hispanic,” which openly suggests direct Spanish ancestry. While it is irresponsible to ignore the tremendous influence of Spanish colonization in our Latin American countries, some of us wish not to be associated with the conquistadors who victimized our indigenous ancestors.

Other Latinos, such as those from Brazil, which was once a Portuguese colony, protest the term “Hispanic” because, unlike Mexicans, for example, they have no direct link to Spain. Haitians, similarly, do not speak Spanish and many fail to identify themselves with that term.

There definitely are those with Latin-American roots who have no preference or who find the word “Latino” to be equally inaccurate. Others insist on identifying themselves directly with their country of origin (i.e. Cuban, Puerto Rican). For the sake of this article, however, I conducted an informal survey with the members of the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), who opted for our month to be called Latino Heritage Month.

Latino Heritage Month is not something I have personally celebrated, despite being a first generation Mexican-American. The truth is that my family and my community, 95% Mexican, do not think our “Mexican-ness” is something that should be celebrated at a certain point in time with a 30-day limit. Our culture is not that one-dimensional; we encompass our culture, but most importantly, we live our heritage year-round.

On the other hand, I have come to accept the harsh reality that I no longer live with my family nor am I surrounded by people with my background. As a result, I feel driven to gather with my fellow Latinos on this campus to commemorate our countries’ independence and to honor the mosaic of cultures that we piece together.

An outside perspective often packs Latinos into the same group, ignoring the differences between a Salvadorian and an Argentinean, for example. These distinctions can easily be noticed through the variations in our language, music and food (to name a few) throughout Latin America.

I have met Latinos who use words foreign to me, such as “un chin,” as a Dominican would say to request a small amount of something, or “una chumpa,” as a Guatemalan often refers to a jacket. The music can range from “cumbia” to “bachata” and a dinner can consist of “tamales,” “popusas,” or “arroz con gandules.” These differences often spark playful arguments, but are representative of the diversity existing even within Latin America.

In essence, Latinos come from an array of traditions and each culture is rich with life. To overlook Latino Heritage Month is to miss out on the multi-cultural aspects of Colgate’s campus. More importantly, we would be rejecting an opportunity to learn a bit about the 35,000,000 Latinos living in the United States. I encourage you to join us in the celebration of our heritage. ?Feliz Mes de La Herencia Latina!