There are only four months in the year that do not have heritage celebrations in the United States, the other eight have been assigned in an attempt to recognize various cultures present in our nation. National Hispanic Heritage Month (NHHM) is from September 15 – October 15, and while the intent of heritage months may be thought of as celebratory recognition for communities within the United States, many of our campus community members feel differently.
With Latinx people on the nation’s stage, this seems to be a wasted opportunity to grapple with larger issues.
Elizabeth Archuleta, associate chair of ethnic studies, shared conflicted feelings, explaining “I’ve always been torn about these celebratory months, because they typically don’t take a critical approach to the communities the month purports to celebrate. NHHM ignores the systemic discrimination and institutional racism the larger community has experienced all while celebrating the food, music, and dance traditions from various Latinx communities. With Latinx people on the nation’s stage, this seems to be a wasted opportunity to grapple with larger issues.”
The context of NHHM isn’t the only problematic topic, either. The use of “Hispanic” as a label for the community in-focus is often not the preferred word for latinx/chicanx folx. Archuleta explains, “I’m Mexican-American, so to use the term ‘Hispanic’ would be to erase that part of my identity for a word that isn’t tied to a nation, a people, or a heritage.”A University of Utah student echoed, “I’ve never used the term ‘Hispanic’ unless it has been to make fun of it.”
That isn’t to say heritage months don’t have the chance to be something great for our nation. Archuleta offers, “some of the issues we should be putting forward are those present in the current political climate—family separation at the border; kids in cages; the U.S. historical contributions to the devastation of Central American countries, which has contributed to their seeking asylum in the U.S. today; the dehumanization of Latinx citizens, which contributed to the mass shooting in El Paso, for example, and so forth.” Ed Muñoz, former chair of ethnic studies and associate professor in ethnic studies and sociology, added, “the centuries-long legacy of hate directed toward US Latinx peoples in general, and Mexican/Chicanx peoples in particular,” as another topic for discussion during NHHM. All of these suggestions point to one critical element missing from NHHM: acknowledgment of the history between the United States and its Latinx/Chicanx communities and how to evolve that relationship in a positive way moving forward.
It was not until college that I realized how my culture and differences are strengths.
At the U, the Chicana/o Scholarship Fund (CSF) celebrates its annual recipients—who have all displayed cultural pride and involvement in strengthening their community—every National Hispanic Heritage Month. In tandem with crucial dialogues, supporting scholarships and opportunities like the Chicana/o Scholarship Fund provides future leaders with the ability to embrace their heritage while pursuing their educational endeavors. Rogelio Brambila, a 2019-2020 Chicana/o Scholarship Fund recipient, elaborates on how his scholarship has helped him pursue his passion for empowering underserved communities. “I spent most of my life trying to hide my Mexican heritage and blend in with everyone else. It was not until college that I realized how my culture and differences are strengths. At the U, I have spent a lot of time volunteering, staying involved with communities of color and underserved communities, which have helped shape my career goals.”
In the United States, there’s a strong desire to recognize and celebrate the different cultures that can be found here; and in order to do so for all eight heritage months (and beyond), encourage others to not only acknowledge contributions from the community, but provide a platform for critical conversations, participate in sharing experiences and histories, and contribute means of support to the various identities within our nation.
If you would like to have a positive impact on the Latinx/Chicanx community at the U, contribute to the Chicana/o Scholarship Fund.