Today’s Essay

It’s time for my annual tirade about Hispanic Heritage Month.

It’s That Time of Year Again

Once again, we find ourselves at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage month. Technically, it’s not a month but rather 30 days spanning the latter half of September and the first half of October. Elswhere during the year an actual month is dedicated to a group, cause, body part or “awareness.” We all know February as Black History Month. March is dedicated to Women’s History. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and June is Pride Month. October used to belong to Italians because of Columbus Day, but that was replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day as a protest. (October is also LGBTQ+ History Month.) November is Native American Heritage Month.

Almost every month is dedicated to some sort of cancer. February is National Cancer Prevention month. March? National Colorectal Cancer. April is a triple threat with Cancer Control, Oral Cancer and Testicular Cancer. May. Skin Cancer. Cancer takes the month of June off but comes back in disguise as Sarcoma-The Forgotten Cancer in July. September barely contains Blood Cancer, Childhood Cancer, Ovarian Cancer and Prostate Cancer. October is dedicated to Breast Cancer and we round out the year with Lung, Pancreatic and Stomach Cancer.

I guess my point is that Hispanic Heritage Month is the only designated “month” that spans two months, beginning on September 15th and ending mid-October. It began in 1968 as a week to honor the Latino community. The idea was to position the week around or near many of the celebrations taking place in the Latino community. Mexican Independence Day is September 15th and is also celebrated on the same day in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Chile celebrates its independence on September 18th. So how hard is it to just designate September as Hispanic Heritage Month?

During the first Reagan administration, the term Hispanic was coined to lump together all people of Latin or Spanish origin much the same way that they used to lump together those of Asian descent as Oriental. (My friend Susan, a Philippino American always reminded anyone who would listen that people were Asian and objects were Oriental.) If you have ever filled out a government form, you know that you are asked to check two boxes. Ethnicity and race. If you check the Hispanic box, you are then asked to choose between white or black for race. Before 1980, Latinos had a choice of identifying as Spanish, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Central or South American. Grouping all people of Latin origin as Hispanic was in the government’s view, a way to get us to assimilate. No more Chicanos. No more Cubanos or Puerto Ricaños. We were free-thinking people and the US government were Star Trek’s villainous Borg.

So for the next few weeks the LatinX community (our newest handle) finds itself at the top of the minority food chain. You’ll see more programming featuring LatinX stories, news, features, actors, issues and art. There are special sections on all of the streaming services that will say something like “LatinX Voices” or “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.” With any luck, you will be able to find it without having to scroll down past the featured movies and original programming, but you will likely find it near the bottom of the programming list. I’m pretty sure that the queen’s passing has bumped Hispanic Heritage Month programming down a few levels. Before the month is over, the entertainment industry will have moved on to Indigenous Peoples Day, Halloween and the Christmas season.

As for me, I celebrate my heritage every day. I’m always going to be a Mexican. I’ll make fun of it and I might even lord it over you now and then. There’s no point in having a race card in the deck if you can’t throw it down every now and then. If I had to wait until someone recognized my worth as a person or within a culture, I’d be here a long time.

Copyright 2022 by Jose Antonio Ponce