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Francisco Pelaez-Diaz, Assistant Teaching Professor in Latinx Studies and Ministries

I believe Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate and, at the same time, to reflect on the complex history and relationship between the United States and the Latinx population. On the one hand, I applaud the celebration of the cultures (food, music, traditions, etc.), histories, and contributions of people like me, U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking nations in North (Mexico is part of North America), Central, and South America, and Spain. The celebration starts on September 15 because that is the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, followed by Mexico (September 16) and Chile (September 18). There is so much to learn and appreciate in the multiple and varied contributions of “Hispanics” (also known as Latinos/as, Latinx, or Latines), who are the largest minoritized “ethnic” group in the U.S. Our contributions to the economy, sciences, arts, sports, the academy, and many other areas of the life of this nation are vast and significant.

On the other hand, this month-long celebration brings mixed feelings to me. First, as a Mexican immigrant, I quickly realized that I was being put in a broad category that practically diluted or made my national identity and culture almost invisible. When I lived in Central America for a few years, I met people from all over Latin America and discovered the region’s extraordinary diversity. For example, I needed translation countless times because many Spanish words have different meanings depending on the country. The differences I experienced in Latin America were well beyond language and other external or material cultural aspects. I wish significant elements of that diversity were better recognized and acknowledged in day-to-day interactions here in the U.S. Second, the history between Latin America and the U.S. is complicated and contrasting. Much of that complex history explains the reason for the strong Latinx presence in this country, much of which remains stained by negative stereotypes, mainly linked to the immigration status of millions of Latinx individuals. I hope that Hispanic Heritage Month serves more and more as an opportunity to learn that history and to understand the root causes of immigration, including the role of U.S. policies toward Latin America that have determined, to a great extent, the immigration influx from the region.

DREW VOICES: HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH

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