This is my first “Hispanic Heritage Month” since taking on this column; it feels as though it carries extra weight amid the racist rhetoric being proliferated by the White House — even if I have qualms about the word “Hispanic.”
On one hand, the term “Hispanic” ignores indigenous inhabitants who have little connection to Spain or Spanish culture. Likewise, this term excludes the Portuguese-speaking inhabitants of Brazil, which bears the distinction of being both the most populous nation-state in Latin America and second-most-populous country in the Western Hemisphere.
What is erroneous about Hispanic Heritage Month is more rooted in history. Ironically, the month of celebrations starts on Sept. 15, when Central American republics (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala) declared independence from Spanish rule in 1810. Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence from Iberian rule the following day (Sept. 16).
Therefore, it makes little sense to privilege the term “Hispanic.” Meanwhile, other options are also imperfect. “Latino” or “Latinx” makes for a more digestible idiom as it is geographically-derived from “Latin America.” Nonetheless, even this word, popularized by Napoleon III during the French invasion of Mexico, erases the presence of the continent’s original residents.
I grapple with these dynamics as well, as they are also rooted in systemic oppression.
Many of my ancestors encountered unthinkable choices: Assimilate to a dominant culture and live under Spanish rule or resist imperial rule and die in a war of attrition. I also have an ancestral connection to the African diaspora in the Americas. My Afro-Mexican kin were forced to contend with material conditions that led to their enslavement and forced relocation.
It is because of this that I am hesitant to fully embrace “Hispanicity,” even if I do have some trace of Iberian ancestry and speak fluent Spanish, albeit a form that is influenced by my Nahuatl-speaking ancestors.
With all of that in mind, I can’t necessarily say that my view or my experience is representative of the larger Chicanx or Mexicanx community, let alone the larger Latinx community. After all, I am a neo-hippie, Seattle-based Chicano.
So, if there is no commonality based solely on shared language and experience (many of our oppressors had similar surnames), then what is the unifying factor?
I would argue that a common trait is our history of resistance to exploitation — a yearning to disrupt the apparatus that perpetrated systemic cultural genocide against our native ancestors, that enslaved our African relations and exploited our mestizo and laboring-class European antecedents.
A shared struggle for human dignity and universal rights is always worth remembering. Whether in Latin America, in the U.S., even in Seattle, the common unifying factor is a historic struggle for better social conditions.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
Check out the full Sept. 26 - Oct. 2 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.