September 15, 2021 • By Christine Pasalo Norland

Centering the Latinx Diaspora

In 2018, journalist Yara Símon wrote a culture piece for Remezcla that investigated how Latinos really feel about Hispanic Heritage Month. While Símon acknowledges that the article isn't representative of the entire Latinx community, it taught me that:

  • September 15 is significant because it's when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua celebrate their independence, and because of its proximity to September 16, when Mexico celebrates its independence.

  • It lasts a month (i.e., until October 15) because of an idea originally proposed by Congressman Esteban Torres in 1987, but not enacted until 1988 after a white Democratic Senator introduced a bill similar to Torres'.

It also reminded me that not every person with roots in countries colonized by Spain and where Spanish is still predominantly spoken consider themselves "Hispanic." There are those who have no personal connection to the heritage month, those who reject its existence, and those who use the month to celebrate their identity and experience as part of the Latinx diaspora.

Símon illustrated that there is no one way to view or experience the month, and that celebrating it certainly doesn't absolve anyone–myself included–from learning about, and taking actions to end, the trauma and injustice experienced daily by Hispanic, Latinx, and Xicanx communities.

If United States federal, state, and city governments are willing to enact a month of recognition, it must also do the work to enable systemic change like:

  • create paths towards citizenship;

  • do away with detention centers;

  • raise the minimum wage at the state and federal level;

  • enact zoning laws that prevent gentrification;

  • support unions; and,

  • abolish agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Custom and Borders Protection, and the police to fully realize community-based and -led processes and resources that provide equitable access to life.

If the arts and culture community is to celebrate this month, we must also get introspective. We must be more intentional about our curating and programming decisions to make sure they are no longer holding up settler colonialism and that they make space to elevate the representation of historically oppressed groups within the Latinx diaspora. Questions that might be asked include:

  • How were artifacts representing Latinx culture acquired and who are they lent by?

  • Does the leadership that make decisions about what to collect and what to program empower Latinx curators and program directors?

  • What are we doing to give space to, and create awareness of, Afro-Latinx and Afro-Xicanx people and women? Of LGBTQ+ Latinx and Xicanx people? Of disabled Latinx and Xicanx people? Of the people who experience the intersection of these identities?

What I hope to do for Latinx barkada is hold all of these truths together and give space for the joy, rage, and healing explored by artists and creative writers with Latinx roots. It's in sitting with the fluidity of experiences that decolonization can continue to take place. It's in sitting among many viewpoints that monoliths fall away and the narratives of those on the margins can breathe.

To help encourage us all to learn about the contributions and impact of Latinx artists to arts and culture period, please consider looking through the free Crossword, Dots & Boxes, and Word Search posted on the Community page for Latine/Latinx Heritage month. The intention behind each one is to encourage curiosity about the people listed, knowing that there will be some of you who may be familiar with all, some, and/or none of the artists. The hope is that you'll look all, some, or one of them up and/or you'll be inspired to do a deep dive to find more artists of Latinx heritage in the field of art most personal to you. The goal is that the learning and appreciation extends beyond this heritage month so that we always hold space for, invest time and money in, and speak up with Latinx artists.


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