I’m not sure that Hispanic Heritage Month is real.
I am highly inclined to dismiss the entire concept as yet another example of white supremacy tokenizing People of Color, yet another attempt at reifying the myth of inclusion and “celebrating diversity” in our society by lifting out a very few, very respectable brown [not Black] people from across the Americas and celebrating their exceptional individual achievements.
Without acknowledging the systems of domination that stack the deck against all of us, like racism, colonization, neoliberalism, and heteropatriarchy, we become complicit with the ideas that most Latinx people are by and large poor, straight, uneducated, undocumented opportunistic brown people out to cheat the system. Those rare individual heroes who make a “greater contribution” become the exceptions that prove the rule.
And at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if learning about a few bright Latinx stars might not have helped me feel less strange and alone as a brown child living in South where the race conversation is still almost entirely within a white-Black paradigm. I can’t help but wonder if it might have given my peers pictures and names and stories to go alongside my clunky explanation of what a “Hispanic” is in my endless attempts to be seen and understood and to justify my thick black hair and not-white, not-black skin.
Culturally, I was raised to be American Southerner. Yet the perpetual question of “Where are you from?” that never ends with my initial answer of “North Carolina,” always reminds me that I don’t quite belong here. Exotic at best, but forever displaced from somewhere farther South.
For so many of us in the Diaspora whose families choose assimilation as a primary survival strategy or who are otherwise isolated from larger Latinx communities, traditions, languages and homelands, there can be a lot of shame around our Latinidad … or lack thereof. In college, was explicitly told by other Latinx people that I couldn’t be Hispanic, because I didn’t speak Spanish. I wasn’t sure what else I needed to be able to claim a “Hispanic” identity, but I felt totally inadequate in the historical narratives and practices of my own family and culture.
What is different now after a decade of work in the struggle for immigrants’ rights, spending time in Latin America, learning Spanish, and getting to know a whole of people with experiences like mine is this: I know that my alienation from my peoples’ histories and cultures is not unique. It is the cruel mandate of Christian missionizing fueled by European colonization that began five centuries ago and continues today in violence of U.S. imperialism and coerced economic migration.
A traditional hallmark of “a good American” is severing loyalties to specific ancestral histories and homelands.” Clinging to foreign identity markers such as speaking a language other than English at home or practicing traditional customs is a telltale sign that an immigrant family has not “properly assimilated.”
The idea of Hispanic Heritage in and of itself is confusing. Is “Hispanic” a race or is it an ethnicity? Most of the Latinx families I know never self-identified as Hispanic before they arrived in the U.S. Before that we are Colombian, Mexican, Salvadoran, Bolivian, etc. (*) After that, we sift out into socially constructed race categories of white or Black or Indigenous, which is usually a lot more dependent on class privilege and education than the actual color of our skin.
Ethnically, we come from vastly different cultures; we prepare and eat different foods; we have different indigenous languages and music; we grow different crops in different geographies; and we perform distinct sacred rituals. It seems that the thing that keeps us most bound to each other is the shared legacy of death and domination, first as “savages” and slaves under the rule of Iberian kingdoms and now as unwilling subjects of U.S. imperialism.
“Hispanic” feels like a fabricated term that tries to get me to identify with my colonizer, laud my own subjugation, and aspire to whiteness based in Christian notions of morality, propriety and civilized society. Since the word Hispanic was invented, it has always referenced peoples from the lands of a continent saturated with Indio, Afro, and Anglo blood.
If nothing else, we are a people who resist. We have resisted death since before the dirty white sails of Europe landed upon our shores and we resist it now: in deserts, in jail cells, in the streets, in crowded apartment complexes.
Now we must decide where our loyalty will reside.
It’s time we commit treason against our “Hispanidad” and reject white supremacy.
It’s time to get back in the streets, and struggle shoulder-to-shoulder with our Black and Indigenous siblings.
It’s time for the next generation of La Raza to rebel! This is your call to reconnect with your ancestral spirit of rebeldía.
Now that is some “Hispanic Heritage” that I can get behind.