Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month is a time for Hispanics and Latinos to celebrate their heritage and culture. To commemorate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, I sat down with the President of Latina’s Unitas on campus. We had a long talk about family, heritage, and culture.
Knowing your roots is a big part of Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month. Many of the Hispanic countries are made up of three diverse races – the indigenous, Africans, and Spaniards. Your roots are what makes you who you are; it’s important to many Hispanic peoples to not only know their diverse heritage but to celebrate the diversity running through their veins. “I think of it as the different types of corn: the pure, gold corn represents the Spaniards, the maize represents the indigenous, and the dark blue corn represents the Africans.”
Family is also very important; and in this day-in-age, being in a Hispanic family is almost scary. Hispanic people are dealing with the backlash of immigration even after several generations have lived in America. Immigration is seen with such a negative connotation, but we never stop to think about why those people immigrated into America. Many countries kick people out – Cuba kicked out all of its white-skinned residents in the 1950’s, with nowhere to go, they fled here. In other countries there are wars, bombs and shootings plague the streets. In these dire circumstances the people flee to the place that is advertised to be safe, understanding, with one of the most sought after dreams in the world. It isn’t until after they risk their lives to get here that they learn that the American Dream is practically unachievable, and their living conditions will be poor.
They are verbally attacked for taking jobs that Americans wouldn’t even want to do. You can’t complain about not wanting to be reduced to having to clean toilets for less than minimum wage and then become enraged because a Hispanic person doesn’t act as entitled as you do.
Something that is not often talked about is the sense of belonging. Many Latinos don’t feel like they are “American” enough to fit into America, but when they visit their native country they feel like they don’t fit in there either. “In America, I don’t feel like I’m American enough. I was born here, but my skin is too dark and I speak with an accent. When I go to Mexico I feel like I’m not Mexican enough. I don’t know their slang, I don’t know enough about the culture. I have to find where I fit in, and that’s hard to do.” Many Latinos feel like they don’t fit into any culture because they’re not “enough” of what it means to be a part of that culture.
It’s hard to fit into a culture that doesn’t even see you as a human. Many Americans don’t view Latinos as real people because they feel they don’t have values – because they’re “illegal.” No human being is illegal, we are all just trying to survive. Doing anything that we can to survive, and that means different things to different people. For some people it means risking your life to get to a place you think will be safe, only to be looked upon as filth. Entire families are ripped apart because of immigration laws. “People I love aren’t seen as human beings, and I am scared that they could be taken away from me at any time.”
“You’re in America, speak English,” it’s a phrase often heard. But technically, more people in America speak Chinese than English, the second most fluently spoken language is German. America doesn’t even have an official first language – when voting on the official language Congress couldn’t decide between English or German. We do, however, have an official second language – Spanish. “I appreciate being bi-lingual. There are options to play with language because there are phrases and words in Spanish that aren’t in English. It’s not just speaking, I think and feel in two different languages.” Spanish is part of these people’s heritage; many American families that come from European countries speak their native language not only in the home but in public as well. I have many friends that speak Polish, German, or even French with their family. But that seems to never been seen as horrid as speaking Spanish with your family. It’s such a beautiful language, a romance language. I feel that we should learn to appreciate it as much as Latinos do.
Hispanic Heritage Month is an important time for Hispanic/Latino peoples to celebrate where they come from – who they are. It is also a time for those around them to learn about the cultures. Hopefully, it’s a time where we can appreciate other people’s cultures and learn to be more accepting.