National Hispanic Heritage Month
Although National Hispanic Heritage Month is over, it is still important to acknowledge Latinos' contributions to this country: food, music, clothing, and architecture. In 1968, Californian Congressman George E. Brown proposed this initial one-week celebration during the Civil Rights Movement. On September 17, 1968, President Lydon B. Johnson signed the first Hispanic Heritage Week proclamation. They chose the date, September 15, because five Central American countries received their independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Twenty years later, Senator Paul Simon (D-Illinois) felt that a week was not enough time to coordinate events and celebrate the achievements of Latinos properly. On September 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush expanded the holiday from a week to a month.
Today, Latinos represent 19 percent of the U.S. population and the fastest-growing minority group. Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban-Americans are the three largest Hispanic groups.
First, what does it mean to be Latino? Often, the terms Latino, Hispanic, and Latinx are interchangeable.
Latino: people from Latin American countries ( Spanish, Portuguese, and French languages)
Latinx: a gender-neutral or nonbinary alternative to Latino or Latina
Hispanic: Americans of Spanish-speaking descent.
Latinos are not monolithic; they represent people from more than twenty countries with rich histories. Last year, on October 7, 2021, President Biden signed a proclamation for October 10, 2022, to become Indigenous People's Day. Ironically, Columbus Day and Indigenous People's Day have celebrated this month on the same date. Many of the sponsored explorers during his time were by monarchs to claim new territories, gold, silver, and spices. Columbus did not land in America but in the Caribbean. Native Americans were long here before he landed in the western hemisphere.
Today there is much debate about whether we should still celebrate a man with a controversial past (see excerpts from his diary). However, Christopher Columbus is an important figure to Italians. For many years, people did not classify Italians as white because this country was mainly for white, Protestant, and heterosexual man from Northwestern Europe. White is an ever-changing term. Italians, primarily Sicilians, were denied their whiteness primarily because of Catholicism and olive skin.
In the fall of 1890, a New Orleans police chief, David Hennessey, was murdered on his way home. The authorities accused two Italian businessmen of murder, and the city charged nineteen Italians in response to Hennessey's death. Six were acquitted, three had mistrials, and a mob lynched eleven. The Italian government heard what happened and informed President Harrison that it would break diplomatic relations if they did not address the issue. During Harrison's State of the Union, he asked Congress to protect the Italians from mob violence. Then, in 1892, he proclaimed Columbus Day to gain diplomacy and to honor 400 years after Christopher Columbus "discovered" America. This one act started Italians' path to being white, an ever-changing concept.
Columbus's explorations influenced other countries to expand their territories: Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal. Great Britain and France primarily settled in North America, while the Iberian Peninsula countries, Spanish and Portuguese, settled in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
They conquered the Native Americans to expand their territories. To survive financially in Latin America, they gained profits from growing sugar cane. Native Americans became the first enslaved people. Missionaries like Bartolome de Las Casas stated that the inhumane treatment affected his conversions. Some Native Americans were receptive to converting blended Catholic saints with their traditional gods. These practices are evident with the celebration of All Hallows Day, Saints' Day, and All Souls Day. Since the Native American population declined tremendously, they began bringing enslaved Africans to the Americas. They had the immunity to fight European diseases and familiar agrarian life.
When colonial men settled in Latin America, they brought few women, so they began having Indigenous and African women serve as their mistresses and wives. As a result, the Spaniards and Portuguese developed a colonial social class system based on race: 1) Peninsulares (born in the Iberian Peninsula), 2) Creoles (people born in South America with Spanish/Portuguese parents), 3) Mestizos (European and Native American ancestry), 4) Mulattoes (European and African ancestry), 5) Native Americans, and 6) Africans. Although this social class system happened hundreds of years ago, the repercussions of those actions are still evident today.
Divide and conquer has been a strategy to prevent people of color from uniting. Latinos have shared histories and cultures. Alice Walker coined colorism in 1982 as "the prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color." Their European, Native American, and African ancestry contribute to their physical variations. Over the years, stars like Sunny Hostin, Rosie Perez, and Fat Joe have spoken about antiblackness in the Latino community.
Dr. Henry Louis Gate Jr.'s Finding Your Roots show revealed that Mario Lopez and Melissa Villasenor both had African ancestry. Nury Martinez, former President of L.A. City Council referred to Councilman Mike Bonin's handling of his Black son as "Parece changuito" or "like a monkey." For years, there has been dissension amongst Blacks, Afro-Latinos, and White Latinos because white seems to be the north star. However, the United States democracy is on the verge of dying, and those who choose to be delusional of those realities will see the costs of not uniting.
Like Asians, Native Americans, and Black, Latinos have also experienced discrimination in this country in housing, jobs, and education. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States. Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they do not have the right to vote in presidential elections. From 1937-1960, doctors practiced Eugenics on Puerto Ricans. In 1937, the U.S. imposed Law 116 to sterilize Puerto Ricans because of the fear of overpopulation. Although it was not mandatory, industrial employers favored women that completed the procedure. Many of the women thought it irreversible and not permanent.
In 1955, Gregory Pincus, a biologist, and Gregory Pincus used poor Puerto Ricans as subjects. The women were unaware they were part of the study. When they complained about the side effects, the doctors dismissed them. In 1960, the practice ended after complaints from the Catholics and nationalists. In the 1982 La Operacion documentary, Marcia Garcia disclosed sterilization's impact on Puerto Rico's society.
Today in the United States, Native Americans are less than 2 percent of its population. The browning of America is causing some to react negatively. Mexicans have often stated, "we didn't cross the border; the border crossed us." Although 40.2 percent of Texas's population is Latino, they are not represented proportionally in the legislature. Some states are trying to narrow the definition of black, passing voting suppression laws, promoting anti-immigration, and blocking white women from getting abortions in fear of the unknown. Based on these ongoing actions, it is making many people question if America truly wants to become this multiracial society. Is equity ever going to be a reality, or is it always going to be a dream?
North and Central America