The second half of September has arrived — ushering our annual incursion into surface-level facets of Latine culture. Indeed, the staggered way that Hispanic Heritage Month is presented, from mid-September through mid-October, is an interesting metaphor for understanding this community. One foot set in decolonial and anti-imperialist fervor, and the other on perpetuating the Columbus mythos. To truly understand a complex community, we must unpack our current perceptions.
Celebrations are clunky, at best. Their most visible method is to engage through cultural signifiers — language, food, culture, music and art, among other things. However, recreating these signifiers out of context and without rooting them in community can do more harm than good. As such, it is important to have these stories and elements reflect our material reality.
This reality is implied in national census data, which has seen a slow update after the institutional negligence of the previous administration created a need to reassess estimates. At the national level, the Latine community is estimated at 62.1 million people, according to the Pew Research Center. The Mexican origin population on its own (approximately 37.2 million people in the U.S.) is numerically close to the entire population of Canada, which has an estimated 38.8 million residents. Likewise, U.S.-born Latine folks account for two-thirds of the total estimate, with more households indicating higher English proficiency than in the past.
In Washington, the State Office of Financial Management estimates the Latine population to be approximately 1.02 million people, or about 13.4% of Washington’s 7.78 million residents. According to the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, the local community faces several challenges, including housing cost burdens and crowded housing, as well as the highest likelihood to be medically uninsured despite having the largest labor force participation rates by race and gender. The numbers are sobering, but they also tell a larger story.
Systemic hindrances in the form of racism, classism, sexism and xenophobia are as deeply embedded locally, as they are nationally. It is therefore critical to examine the long history of community mutual aid and struggles for economic justice. They allow for a richer understanding of the Latine population.
In telling these hopeful stories, it is also important to move away from canonical thinking by illustrating prominent figures; this method tells only one part of the larger community narrative. A richer tapestry of voices exists on the social and economic margins, in the everyday experiences of folks organizing for a better day. This is indeed a story that merits attention as it is also a reflection of other communities who also pursue a dignified existence.
Read more of the Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2023 issue.