Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month: Reflections on Language & Allyship
Angela Moore (AM): September 15th marks the beginning of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month. To start this month off, I’ve asked UNR’s new Director of Hispanic and Latinx Community Relations, Dr. Karla Hernández, to share some of her personal and professional insights on the month.
Hi Dr. Hernández and thank you so much for agreeing to share with us. During this month, I often find myself reflecting on my life growing up in Texas and all the ways Hispanic and Latino/a/x cultures have shaped and added to my experiences, through language, through media and music, through food and religion, through neighbors and life lessons and community. Even though I don’t directly come from Hispanic Heritage or have direct family ties to Latino/a/x cultures, I’ve always felt so accepted and welcomed by my neighbors and community members who do. So, as kind of an outsider, I have a great sense of gratitude for this month. What does Hispanic Heritage month mean to you, and how has this meaning changed or evolved over time?
Karla Hernández (KH): My earliest memories of las fiestas patrias (national holidays) in September include enjoying street food in the heart of Mexico City, surrounded by hundreds of compatriots gathered to celebrate Mexico’s independence on the evening of September 15th. Growing up in Mexico City, visiting el zocalo (public square) was a family tradition. I vividly remember the fireworks and the loud ringing of the bell as the president of Mexico shouts: “Mexicanos, ¡viva México!...” This is referred to as El Grito de Independencia (battle cry of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain) and it typically occurs the evening of September 15.
Over time, the national holidays were no longer a highlight for my family. We migrated to the U.S. in 1997 and we soon realized that other dates such as Cinco de Mayo (fifth of May) were a much bigger deal for Mexican compatriots in the U.S. – I am still a bit puzzled by this since Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated in Mexico and only briefly covered in Mexican history classes.
It makes sense to have a month dedicated to acknowledging and celebrating the diverse communities in the U.S. from Latin American roots – Hispanic Heritage Month or Latinx Heritage Month.
In recent years, I have given much thought to the terminology historically employed to describe and categorize Hispanic or Latino/a/x folks. I find this to be quite a complex topic – there is no one size fits all term. In my research, I have found that folks from different age groups may be more comfortable identifying as Hispanic; the terminology used varies depending on the country of origin and the geographical location where communities reside within the U.S.
AM: That’s interesting about Cinco de Mayo, and I’m so glad you shared these thoughts on language. I’ve heard there’s some desire to move away from calling this month “Hispanic Heritage Month” because of concerns about the word Hispanic and how it connotates relationships to Spain, or to the Spanish language. In addition to Mexico’s Independence, this month also coincides with numerous other countries gaining independence from Spain and Spanish colonizers, like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Chile. Some feel the language surrounding this month should also resist the influence of Spanish colonialism. Have you heard these concerns, and what are your thoughts on this? What terms do you prefer to use?
KH: I have heard varying opinions and have read compelling reasoning against the use of the term Hispanic. I think it will take time for folks to reach a consensus on whether to continue using Hispanic as a singular word that potentially describes a diverse group of people sharing specific cultural and historical links. As you mentioned, Latino/a/x or folks who identify as Hispanic come from various geographical regions with varying levels of Spanish (European) colonialism, Indigenous and/or African roots as well.
I, myself, prefer to not identify as Hispanic – I prefer to identify as Latina or Latinx. I embrace the inclusive term Latinx for various reasons. One justification being that the X can be interpreted as a nod to Indigenous roots and dying languages which may not follow the feminine-masculine dichotomy of the Spanish language. One could argue that employing the X is redefining our complex, intersecting identities and is an act of decolonization.
AM: I love how much history and potential for resistance can be seen in these terms; this was such a helpful explanation. Do you have any tips or suggestions for folks who want to be allies to Hispanic and Latino/a/x communities: how they might use this awareness of language, and this month in general to advance their allyship practices?
KH: My suggestion is to not make assumptions. Each person has a unique and multifaceted identity that cannot be oversimplified by a single label such as Hispanic. Ideally, we should give each person the opportunity to share how they self-identify. Providing others with a safe space to elaborate on the intricacies of their own identity provides invaluable opportunities for each of us to develop our cultural competency and appreciate our differences and connections.
AM: Thank you for sharing this powerful advice, Dr. Hernández. I really appreciate how applicable this is to daily life. Last question: how can folks get involved and connect with community at UNR and in Northern Nevada during Hispanic Heritage month?
KH: A variety of events will be taking place on and off campus throughout Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, September 15 – October 15. With Nevada currently being the third most ethnically diverse state in the nation and with over a third of Nevada residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino, (Northern) Nevada residents may have noticed an increase in the diversity of events, businesses, and food venues in the region (state). Opportunities to experience the abundant diversity that exists within Hispanic/Latinx communities are many year-round.
AM: Thank you again Dr. Hernández, for sharing your insights and expertise on this important month.
*Please be sure to check out the list below for more details on Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month events. More events are likely to be announced after the publication of this article, so be sure to check here for updates and additional Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month events.
Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month Events
- Pachuquísmo: Performance centering the Chicana experience during the Zoot Suit Riots in 1943 (Postponed – Dec. 8)
- Free Dance Workshop with La Mezcla: An introduction to Zapateado Jarocho, traditional dance from Veracruz, México (UNR Redfield Studio Theatre, CFA Bldg., 5 – 6:30 p.m.)
- El Grito: Celebration of arts, family, and Latinx heritage (UNR North Blue Parking Lot, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
- Fiesta on Wells: Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration (Wells Avenue, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
- “Llegaron los Guanacxs”: Art exhibition featuring the works of local Salvadoran-American artists (El Rincón Restaurant, 668 Greenbrae Dr., Sparks, 4 – 8 p.m.)
- Tu Bienvenida: Celebration to welcome new Latinx faculty, staff and students to UNR (JCSU Gateway Plaza, 3:30 - 5 p.m.)
- Maya Skies & Live Mariachi Band: Musical performance from UNR’s own “Mariachi Lobos de Plata” paired with “Tales of Maya Skies,” a full-dome show from the Chabot Space and Science Center (Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center, 6 - 7 p.m.)