These challenges raise the question of what Hispanic Heritage Month should look like in 2019.
First, let’s talk about the name. G. Cristina Mora, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American,” said the term Hispanic emerged both as a “fight for recognition” and an “administrative quandary.” After the 1970 census severely undercounted Latinx populations, the Census Bureau developed a Spanish Origin Advisory Committee made up of activists, academics and civic leaders to tackle the problem.
Soon, intense debates about how to address the issue emerged: Should the new label focus on commonality of the Spanish language? Should it center race? A shared experience of colonization? Some argued “Latino” too closely resembled “Latin American,” and preferred to distinguish themselves from a transient immigrant community. Others felt focusing the label on the Spanish language connected them too closely to their European colonizers. To complicate matters, there were generations of folks in New Mexico who embraced the term “Hispano”; these communities cherished both their Spanish and their Apache, Comanche, Pueblo or other Indigenous ancestry. “Even if they had never set foot in Spain,” Mora said, many claimed this part of their heritage as a mechanism to avoid discrimination, particularly during the Jim Crow era.
“Hispanic” was presented as an English-language parallel to the New Mexican term “Hispano,” one that could be reframed into a catchall to include dozens of nationalities, races and identities. “Hispanic became the imperfect compromise,” and eventually became a census category in 1980, Mora said.
Since then, the word Latino (and, more recently, the gender-inclusive term Latinx) was introduced as an alternative and has become widely adopted, calling into question the continued use of Hispanic in the federally observed commemoration. Janel Martinez, a multimedia journalist who started Ain’t I Latina, an online publication that highlights black Latinos, said she doesn’t refer to the month by its official name at all, instead calling it Latinx Heritage Month. But she says the issue goes deeper than terminology.
“Though these ‘all-inclusive’ terms were designed as umbrella terms to unify and reflect a shared culture, it’s clear not everyone is included,” Martinez said. “Those of us who often exist on the outskirts of the definition, such as black and/or Indigenous Latinxs, we’ve created our own safe spaces to celebrate ourselves during the month and beyond.” Martinez also added that she’d like to see the recognition of Latinos go further than celebrating culture, to include conversations about “how equitable and inclusive spaces are being created to center our existence and issues that disproportionately impact us.”