Hispanic Heritage Month — OPINION: Why it’s Significant to the U.S.A.

9 min read

Hispanic Heritage Month 2020 is celebrated in the United States from Sept. 15th through to Oct. 15th. It commemorates the independence of many Latin American countries from Spain. This year, I can’t help but reflect on what it means to be Latinx/Hispanic in these times.

As I consume media, I watch globally how refugees and immigrants are vilified and rejected. In the U.S., that spotlight targets the Latinx/Hispanic community.

Whether from here, born here, or fleeing here, the current U.S. administration has targeted the Latinx community from every angle.

Many Latinx/Hispanic people in the U.S. have struggled to survive.

From the neglect of governmental departments, like FEMA, when Puerto Ricans were hit with natural disasters; to inhumane deterrent practices of I.C.E.; to family separation of minors and infants from their mothers. These actions are currently attracting the United Nations’ attention for abuses of human rights.

By limiting resources for people of color, the U.S. further restricts their path out of poverty. Using these measures, they limit quality education and diminish people’s ability to contribute further to society.

Add to this; politicized images splashed over national media of Latinx people fleeing the atrocities of distant narco-political homelands, which the U.S. helped establish. These same people are then met with xenophobic backlash from the U.S. administration; when this country’s forefathers were in these similar shoes not so many generations ago. Watching it all unfold in front of our eyes depletes the “alma” (soul). So why should we celebrate Hispanic Heritage with its own Month?

Let’s take a look:

Protesters hold up "we are all immigrants" sign at protest.
We are all immigrants. @kaid7 via Twenty20

U.S. Immigrant History

Suppose we consider that the U.S. has been a country for the last 243 years, approximately nine generations. Arriving immigrants to the U.S. were poor, uneducated, indentured servants, or slaves. They came in hopes of escaping violence, war, racism, classism, famine and religious persecution. 

These forefathers worked menial jobs and strove to make better lives for their families. Most first-world countries should acknowledge they are a land of immigrants. Whether current or descendants, they were slaves, refugees and asylum-seekers: some legal, and most just lucky. 

Why Hispanic Heritage Month 2020?

In July 2017, there were 58.9 million Hispanics within the United States, equaling 18.1 percent of our population. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report in February 2016. It stated that 11 million “illegal” U.S. immigrants pay an estimated amount of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes annually. “On average, an estimated eight percent of their incomes.”

According to Citigroup-Oxford Martin School, migrants have accounted for two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) expansion since 2011. These migrants created about 30 percent of all businesses but only comprise 14 percent of the population.

Furthermore, more than half of U.S. startups worth more than $1 billion are founded by immigrants. They also created 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

LatinX are also two to three times more likely than native-born citizens to start a company, create a patented innovation, win a Nobel Prize, or win an Academy Award.

The fiscal analysis showed no evidence of migrants hoarding benefits, confirming the error in public perception versus reality. Furthermore, it showed immigrants consumed fewer public resources than received when compared to native residents over time.

Although incurring initial costs upon arrival, governments would benefit from shifting taxes more effectively in areas of high immigrant concentrations. Thereby initially replacing potential pressure on public services and infrastructure.

"Immigrants: We get the job done." sign outside a business.
Fishs Eddy, New York, New York, US. @p__nutbutter83 via Twenty20

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates Immigrant Work.

Immigrants are typically of working age. They help improve the workers-to-dependents percentage within their economies and usually have their home countries’ training and education.

They help raise levels of innovation, productivity, and economic growth within their new economies. 

Research recommends policies that would help integrate immigrants into their new workforce by giving education, training, language classes, and certification. This can then ensure that migrants could utilize their skills, education, or training upon arrival.

This study also found immigrants associated with higher wages, higher productivity, lower unemployment, and higher female workforce participation. 

Comparatively, countries that highly opposed immigration, such as Poland and Hungary (below 2 percent), also had the lowest foreign-born populations, flat birthrates, high aging rates and rising labor shortages. 

The political focus on immigration stems from legislators “proving their toughness” on immigration, which reflected an increasing broad resentment stemming from stagnation in income growth.

Further controls on immigration only slow progress, increase inequality, and undermine social cohesion, leading to a vicious cycle of a “race to the bottom” that would disadvantage everyone.

The Department of Health and Human Services found that refugees brought $63 billion more in government revenues than they cost over the past decade. 

Consequently, this study was rejected and downplayed by the current U.S. administration. It cited cost, taxation of the social systems, and homeland security as limits to reduce the number of accepted refugees and asylum-seekers into the U.S.

Multicultural friend group eating pizza.
multicultural friends standing and eating pizza. Envato Elements.

Hispanic Heritage Month brings attention to Changing Demographics.

Looking currently at the population, Forbes magazine claims there are 131 million multicultural citizens, making up 37.5 percent of the U.S. population. In 2019, Hispanics accounted for the most significant portion at 19.6 percent. By 2030, the U.S. Hispanic population is expected to reach more than 72 million people. 

Hispanics/Latinx are the youngest ethnic group in the U.S. with a median age of 28, meaning they are in their top working and spending years. Young Hispanics/Latinx are increasingly diverse and it is projected by 2024, more than half of the millennial and postmillennial population will be multicultural/multiracial. 

Hispanic and Latin culture spans the globe, integrating into almost every ethnic group and continent through immigration, conquest, colonization, or slavery.

Above, we’ve discussed the reasons Hispanic Heritage Month is important to the U.S. — now let’s look at its influence around the globe.

Hispanic Heritage Month Hi-Lights Hispanic/Latinx History

When I first arrived in the U.S., I was surprised at how many people in the West perceive Latinx/Hispanic culture as exclusively Mexican. Understandably, Mexicans are the largest Hispanic origin group in the U.S. at almost 62 percent, with roughly 37 million people as of 2018. 

It surprised me how little people knew about other Latinx cultures or had little curiosity about the many diverse cultures that affect every aspect of U.S. lives and history.

Let’s Start with some Basics.

“Hispanic” refers to the culture, people, and nations linked to Spain or the Spanish language. The term “Latinx/Latino” refers to the people, culture, and countries in Latin America. Recent discussions over renaming the U.S. holiday to Latinx Heritage Month instead of Hispanic Heritage Month seek to be more inclusive of the full population it intends to serve.

Historically, in the 50 years after the Columbus era, the discovery of the Americas marked a time when Spain and Portugal, among other Europeans, colonized the New World and brought wealth back to their Motherlands.

As colonialists encountered and slaughtered these countries’ Indigenous people, they “stabilized” these new territories under the Spanish Crown by introducing the Encomienda system, which worked like a hybrid of feudalism and slavery.

Spanish Viceroys and nobles ruled as landholders in the New World. They were granted Indigenous slaves and ownership to most of what they produced, such as gold or agricultural products. They exchanged disease, guns, alcohol, Christianity and religious salvation in trade. 

In some circumstances, the surviving Native American communities continued to resist the Spanish and push back against Christianity, as seen historically in the Pueblo revolt or Pope’s Rebellion driving the Spanish out. 

The Americas’ Indigenous populations fought hard but eventually dwindled from 20 million to 2 million by the 1600s. Soon after, the Spanish brought African slaves to the New World to compensate for the loss of slave labor spurring the African Diaspora and the Atlantic Slave Trade as we know it.

In describing the history leading to Used to explain relevance to Latinx Heritage Month, a visual of the Spanish Empire. Original map of Trasamundo, it has been redrawn from scratch and modified, including territorial claims
The Spanish Empire. Source: By Nagihuin — Original map of Trasamundo, it has been redrawn from scratch and modified, including territorial claims (Nagihuin)+Small correction in the colouring of the Viceroyalty of Río de La Plata, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Colorism in Hispanic/Latinx Culture

Backed by the Spanish Monarchy and Iberian Catholic Church, the “Casta” system was created during this era. It qualified and ranked the value and legal status of people of color, based on the percent of European Spanish or Portuguese blood mixed with African, Native, or both. 

People’s value increased or decreased based on their genealogical mix and afforded their station and autonomy accordingly. Illustrated in this Casta painting below, decreasing legal rights, social rank, and value, the lower you move on the map. 

Because of the Casta system, colorism, racism, and classism became ingrained facets in Latin/Hispanic culture.

A drawing of The Hispanic Casta system  showing placement of different people in Spanish-based society. Used to explain relevance to Latinx Heritage Month,
Casta System Painting Source: WikiCommons

The Hispanic Casta system made a place for different people in their society, Christianizing, incorporating and enslaving many.

This system was distinct from other European cultures’ treatment of slaves and Indigenous when creating their colonies, which instead chose to eradicate whole populations. 

As a result, Latinx /Hispanic culture encompasses African, Asian, Indigenous North & South American and European ethnicities. 

Intricate Gold Latin language map.
Gold Latin Map of The World With Art. @rcarms via Twenty20

The Spanish Crown’s Reach

As the Spanish Crown spanned globally, it created colonies that landed in the Americas in the 16th to 19th centuries. The Philippines were colonized in the 1500s. Filipinos repelled the Spanish, making them flee toward Indonesia, ultimately imprisoned by the Portuguese.

Finally, in the 11th century, Moors (Moroccans) in Northern Africa pushed into Spain, converting many Christians into the Muslim faith to eradicate religious pluralism. In the 18th and 19th century the Spanish colonized parts of Northern Africa. Where they later created Spanish colonies in West Africa in the 1940s. 

Now that you understand global Latinx/Hispanic culture let’s dive back into the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month to the U.S.

Girl stands in front of a brightly colored blue, red and yellow painted rolling commercial garage door.
Flix Flax. @genesislinares_ via Twenty20

Interpretations of Latinx Cultures. 

Latinx people are portrayed negatively across media and politics. Whether illegals, DREAMERS, or a brand-new echelon of first-world slavery, staying just below the radar to avoid immigration.

Portraying Latinx as poor, desolate, with minimal aspirations, participating in illicit activities. Being LatinX paints a picture that leaves little to be admired. It doesn’t reflect the greatness that was once the hegemonic culture that ruled many parts of the world. 

Despite current circumstances, xenophobic policies and fearful politicians cannot stop the dream of a people. The caravan that left the Northern Triangle of Central America began their travels during the holy week of Lent — meant to symbolize the sacrifice of Jesus as he withdrew into the desert. These people’s symbolic gesture was a narrative of their journey and ultimately, so was their reception.

According to a report by the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, the Northern Triangle has one of the highest levels of femicide and homicides in the world.

Escaping narco politics, poverty, and corruption, more than 76,000 migrants crossed the border in February 2019, with over 2,200 people arriving every day. Many deferred or prevented from applying for asylum status, protected under international law and U.S. immigration policy. 

The Obama administration raised the refugee ceiling from 85,000 in 2016 to 110,000 in 2017 amid the Syrian crisis. Consequently, in 2018 the current administration had set a refugee cap of 30,000, the lowest level since 1980. More than 28,000 refugees admitted to the U.S., according to the Refugee Processing Center in August 2019. The new cap for 2020 will be 18,000 refugees, the lowest count ever.

Hispanic/Latinx’s Impact in the upcoming U.S. election

The administration’s focus may be changing during this election year, especially the campaigns aimed toward the Hispanic/Latinx community. For the upcoming elections, LatinX is the largest ethnic minority group, with 32 million eligible voters.

New Mexico has the highest Hispanic/Latinx state population of 49.3 percent as of 2019. Two out of three Latinos live mainly in five other states, Texas, Calif., Ariz., New York and Fla. Three of these five states have typically run red (for the Republican party). Florida maintains a higher Cuban and Venezuelan population.

Florida’s Republican lean is strong in these Latinx groups due to their (previous) countries’ political history of Communism and Socialism. As Trump condemned Maduro’s abuses, it gained him favor in the Venezuelan-American community.

Other Latinx U.S. citizens’ political history runs more Democratic. Their (previous) countries’ history and experience with fascism, brutal dictatorships and authoritarians make them left-leaning. Although the Hispanic/Latinx vote outcome is anyone’s guess, the political karmic crow couldn’t be any more delicious for this community.

An old town shopping area, with artisan craft and old historic buildings.
Shopping Old Town @iMageMD via Twenty20

Hispanic/Latinx Culture is Diverse

Whether refugee, immigrant, migrant, DREAMER, or native-born citizen, Hispanic/Latinx people benefit the U.S., history, and people. 

Hispanic/Latinx culture has merit and its people have value.

Its history hasn’t always been pretty. In fact, it is quite messy, but the ugliness and tension add perspective and weight to the beauty. 

It spans many different branches within the same tree, holding its Hispanic roots as a common bond.

Centuries later, Hispanic/Latinx heritage is a vibrant, colorful, diverse tapestry. This culture has spanned the globe painting it with brushes saturated in the colors of who we are, for better or worse.

Born of blood, passion, revolution, and conquest; it does not hide from the fire of which it was made. For it is the cause of its beauty, story, triumphs, and defiance, and it will never be complacent.

Our history is vast. Our culture is rich, and knowing its history means understanding its future — so happy Hispanic Heritage Month, everyone. I hope you take the time to celebrate it. 

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