Column: The importance of Hispanic Heritage Month
Being a first-generation Mexican American college student, it’s hard to look at the curriculum presented to me and see it reflective of my experience. This is true for many MSU students.
History of Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month — which is between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15 — gives Latinx-identifying individuals the opportunity to reflect on their cultural roots and help other students who might not identify with the culture learn more about what Latinx individuals have contributed to society.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Hispanic Heritage Week bill into law on Sept. 17, 1968, National Hispanic Heritage Week was founded.
This was expanded and introduced as a month in 1987, when Rep. Esteban Torres submitted a bill to change Hispanic Heritage Week into Hispanic Heritage Month. Unfortunately, Torres’ bill died and was reintroduced and amended by Sen. Paul Simon.
The Senate bill then passed the House, and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
The month celebrates the rich cultures, history and contributions of individuals whose ancestors come from Latin America, which includes Mexico and countries in South and Central America.
There is much more to the Latinx community than the term “Hispanic.” There are multiple layers within the community itself and it’s important to recognize and honor these communities equally.
The term Hispanic, according to the U.S Census Bureau, is defined as a person, regardless of race, of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American descent, or of another Spanish culture or origin.
The term is deemed controversial due to many finding it to be reflective of “Spanish” culture and colonialism.
It is important to note that this term only includes individuals who are from Spanish-speaking Latin America, according to Britannica.
The term Latino or Latina — according to Britannica — refers to anyone born in or with ancestors from Latin America and living in the U.S., including Brazil.
The term Latino is embraced more by Latinx individuals because it is inclusive of non-Spanish speaking countries and indigenous groups.
The term does not include romance languages, such as French, Romanian and Italian.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Latinx is generally used as a gender-neutral term for Latin Americans, but it is especially embraced by members of Latin LGBTQ communities as a word to identify themselves as people of Latin descent possessing a gender identity outside the male/female binary.
The Spanish language has a gendered structure. For instance, a group of women can be gathering and are referred to as “Latinas.” However, as soon as a single man joins the group, they are referred to as “Latinos.”
Latinx is a push to be more inclusive and still refers to anyone born in or with ancestors from Latin America and living in the U.S., while also including individuals who do not identify with gender binary terms.
There is a deep intersectionality between the black and Latinx identity.
The term Afro-Latino or Afro-Latinx refers to individuals with Latin American descent and African roots.
Afro-Latino/Afro-Latinx individuals are around the world, ranging from Honduras, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Being a more recently-coined term, many celebrities — such as singer and television star Amara La Negra — have opened up about their identities and what it means to be Afro-Latina.
Why is this all important?
The Hispanic population is 55.6 million as of July 1, 2015, constituting 17.6% of the nation’s total population. This means people of Hispanic origin are the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population will constitute 26.8% of the nation’s population by 2060.
It is important for Latinx individuals to be given the space to learn more about, and express, their culture. There are layers to the Latinx community, and it is important to recognize and highlight the diversity within the community.
In this particular time, Hispanic Heritage Month plays a bigger role than it ever has before.
In this political climate, the Latino community has been dehumanized. Latinos have been called “criminals” and “rapists” by various individuals. This common rhetoric has made it easy for others to have preconceived notions of the Latinx community.
It’s important to be engaged and educated about the Latinx community in a positive manner, and I encourage all MSU students and professors to do so.
On MSU’s campus, there are a variety of organizations dedicated to serving the Latinx community and educating those who are wanting to learn and be an ally.
One of my favorite quotes is from Clive Barker, and he says, “Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.”