As Hispanic Heritage Month arrives in the United States once again, we must all remain critical about what we’re celebrating, how we are celebrating, and for whom we are celebrating. These are all essential questions to ask ourselves in moving beyond performative allyship to intentional actions that create meaningful visibility and work in solidarity with the Hispanic and Latine community.
Hispanic Heritage Month, also known as Latinx/Latine Heritage Month, recognizes the contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latine Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. It is important to recognize that these definitions can mean different things to different people. To align on what we mean by each word, here are some definitions.
Hispanic: People who speak Spanish and/or descend from Spanish-speaking populations (ethnolinguistic category).
Latinx: Inclusive American-centric description for people who are from or who descend from Latin America.
Latine: Inclusive Spanish language-centric description for people who are from or who descend from Latin America.
However, where do the countless Hispanic and Latine individuals not recognized as “Americans” fit in this celebration? It is hard to celebrate an idea that does not fully encompass the Hispanic and Latine community in its entirety. We are the undocumented immigrants that contribute to the world without recognition. We are the guerrilleres that have challenged “traditionalism” within our cultures to demonstrate that we are so much more than a stereotype or cultural expectation. We are biculturalism and multiculturalism, reflecting multiracial identities, Indigenous ancestries, immigration, and generations of community. We are the largest ethnic group (18.7%), second only to non-Hispanic, non-Latine white people in the United States, in a country that continuously invalidates our existence.
We, the Latine community, are not only the soldiers, the farmers, the builders; we are not “just” the immigrants that entered the United States. We are the people who built the United States. Our history is not just the carefully curated individual stories that are shared every year at this time. It is all of the injustice that the United States has perpetrated against us. It is the discrimination we continuously experience daily because of oppressive American policies. It is our countries that are not free, such as our beloved borinquen (Puerto Rico). It is our countries that have suffered from U.S. involvement. Ultimately, Hispanic and Latine history is all of the individuals that have been treated as invisible by the United States. Our history began long before the establishment of the United States. Our history is our lucha (fight).
When discussing how to “celebrate” our community, we must deepen our understanding of our history. We must create visibility for all people who continue to exist and contribute despite the confinements of what society deems “acceptable” for a Hispanic and/or Latine immigrant - for the undocumented Latine community, for the documented but neglected Latine community, for the queer Latine community, for the Afro-Latine community, for the trans-Latine community, for the disabled Latine community, for the neurodivergent Latine community, and for all the multiculturalism that lives within our Latine community.
Celebrating contributions sounds nice, and there is no question that our community has been essential to what the United States is today. However, we need most for the United States to acknowledge the oppression it has perpetrated and been complicit in - fully owning its history and current marginalization of Hispanic and Latine communities. If we cannot discuss the continued racism salient in America—of the unclear lines between who is “valued” and who is “criminalized” within the Hispanic and Latine community—then we cannot overcome it.
Instead of colourful flower pallets and food festivals, if you want to celebrate our Hispanic and Latine heritage, educate yourself and those in your community about our real history and create action. Acknowledge the ugly, create petitions and plans to act in reconciliation with our community, be intentional with your support, and join la lucha (the fight).
This Hispanic and Latine Heritage month, we urge you to:
As always, if you want to learn more about how to support a community, go straight to the community.
Author's Note: It is essential to recognize that no single umbrella term can capture the multiculturalism that encompasses the Caribbean, Central America, and Latin America. Some Hispanic and/or Latine community members might find the umbrella terms “Hispanic” or “Latine” too homogenizing or reductive and prefer to identify more specifically by the country or countries associated with their heritage. For that reason, different lived experiences and generations will choose what term, if any, resonates with their identity. We should never assume that countless distinct lived experiences are obligated to identify themselves within the confounds of a single word. I choose to use Hispanic and Latine to reflect and respect the diversity in our communities’ cultures, races, and lived experiences.