By Victor Landa, NewsTaco
If this were an official “Hispanic Heritage Month” (HHM) article it would be sanctioned by some municipality, organization, agency or group. It would be festooned with colored ribbons and confetti. If this were an official HHM article there’d be a quote or somesuch line that would add legitimacy to the piece and gravitas to the festivity: Maybe this article would point to a cultural event, a reading, or a play, or a conference in a hall at some University where we’d be invited to frown intelligently and learn collectively.
If this were an official HHM article there’d be beer, and folklorico dancers, and tacos and pupusas and mariachis and salsa; there’d be churros and sombreros … and gritos.
But it’s not those things.
This is the latest spurt of an evolving attitude toward a yearly ritual that leaves me a little more confused each year. It’s much like the optical illusion where one finger, held at arms length in front of your eyes, will look like two when you bring the finger to your nose. You know what it is, but it looks like something else up close.
Hispanic Heritage Month does not make me feel expansive in my culture. Al contrario, these four weeks of Hispanic limelight make me feel like I’m standing in a small corner of a large room and someone’s snapping a picture, forcing me to smile “cheese.”
There’s something dismissive about the celebration that makes me uncomfortable. Latinos get a month to woot and flaunt, then it’s over. But being Latino isn’t something I can shut down come mid-October. I’ve remarked many times that every morning, when I look at myself in the mirror, is an Hispanic Heritage Event. I don’t wear a charro hat to work, nor do I stroll down the sidewalk with maracas in my hands. That HHM caricature has nothing to do with me.
On the up side, this is a great moment for non-Latinos to find out more about Latinos in their midst. It’s a great time to roll out a multi-part documentary about Latino contributions to the fabric and history of the U.S.; a good time for book stores to stack books by Latino authors on a table by the registers; a time for serious conversation, serious articles.
But it would be better, I think, if these things happened outside of the HHM context – away from the small corner in the big room – for one single reason: Latinos are not Latino for only four weeks of the year, but that’s the impression that HHM seems to give.
I understand the reason. Latinos haven’t always been as prominent as we are now. In 1970 Lations were a mere 4 percent of the U.S. population. In the 40 years since we’ve grown to just under 17 percent. For four decades most of the U.S. hardly gave Latinos a second thought. It would seem to many in the non-Latino community that we suddenly “popped” out of nowhere.
We know that’s not the case, and maybe we should take advantage of this month-long Hispanofest to educate and ease folks into the idea that we’re here, always have been, not going anywhere, and are as American (United State-ian, for the indigeno-purists among you) as the rest.
So I’m partially on board for this HHM thing, but only a very small part. I edit this Latino news service every day, I can’t just shut if off to make room for Halloween. And for the next four weeks there’ll be plenty of Latino and Hispanic articles and stories to bring you – it’ll be hard to ignore the coming flood of Latino themed content. But I’ll try to keep it in perspective; my own perspective; a Latino perspective; 365/24/7.
And once this thing is over I’ll walk away from the corner, look for some non-Latino folks, put my arm around them, lift a camera, say “smile we’re American” and snap a selfie.