Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month

As September 15 comes closer on our calendar, we begin to see cities and communities across the United States start the process of planning parades, festivals, guest speakers, and other important cultural necessities in order to celebrate what is quickly becoming one of the preeminent 30 day celebrations, also known as National Hispanic Heritage Month. We have come a long way in terms of getting recognition in the country. Hispanics represent the second most populous group, and the largest minority in the United States and it shows. It has been a long journey that has been taken in different areas, from being actors in minor roles on television shows, like Julio on Sanford and Son, or Freddie Prinze in Chico and the Man, to high dollar top rated actors and actresses like Andy Garcia and Salma Hayak. Conjunto legend Ramon Ayala went from playing the fairgrounds in Pasadena to headlining the House of Blues here in Houston, not too long ago. We have seen the emergence of our art in different forms. No longer does true Chicano art have to hide on the sides of buildings or on trains, now it is on display all over the nation in galleries and museums. Our politicians are spotlighted at national party conventions and are said to be future presidential candidates. Ivy League schools and top ranked colleges and universities are trying to woo the future scientists and engineers from our high schools. Latinos have finally become the next big thing.

September 15, as the inception of National Hispanic Heritage Month, in itself is important because it kicks off the celebration of several days of Independence in Latin America, or Fiestas Patrias. Perhaps the most popular of these is Mexico’s "Grito de Dolores," where Miguel Dolores Hidalgo declared independence in Mexico from Spain on September 16, 1810. As many Mexican nationals began to immigrate into the United States, mainly during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, their love of the holiday followed. With the numbers of immigrants steadily increasing, many from government sponsored programs like braceros, contract labor and the amnesty passage in the eighties, the celebrations also increased. Major cities like Houston and Los Angeles began to have Fiestas Patrias parades and festivals. It was not uncommon to have smaller communities also have bazaars and their festivals in their Mexican neighborhoods. Often times, these events were capped off with the coronation of a Queen of the Fiestas Patrias. The whole community would come out and have dances with music and food. It began to resemble the Founder’s Day festivals celebrated across America.

With the economic changes happening all over the world, especially in Latin America, other groups of Latinos started to come into the United States. People from Central and South America and the Caribbean began to also contribute to this nation’s cultural identity and economic growth. Those newer groups also started to share their traditions, so with that in mind Fiestas Patrias began to change. Throughout Latin America, Columbus Day has another name, Dia de la Raza, Day of our Race. This name is significant, firstly because Christopher Columbus is not very popular in Latin America, so to have a named holiday in his honor did not bode well, and secondly, because it was the day that the idea of a new race, the Mestizo, began to take root. I can remember going to Hermann Park in Houston to watch the Dia de la Raza Festival every October 12. Whether it was a typical traditional band, a singer, or a group of folkloric dancers, every country had a representation there, they made their presence felt. It was Latino America’s gift to this melting pot, its people and their traditions.

With the passage of time our country has extended what started off as a couple of days into a whole month of Hispanic bliss. Maybe it was growth in population, maybe it was political correctness, or maybe it was even companies realizing that the Hispanic community is the number one group of the nation for disposable income. Whatever it may be, the country is realizing that there is more to Latinos in the United States than previously thought. Today, it is often common to see groups such as Duelo and Pesado fill up and sellout the Reliant Stadium during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We see the literary importance of Hispanics in magazines such as People in Español, newspapers like Rumbo and La Semana, anthologies such as Norton Anthology Latino, and best sellers such as Dominican Junot Díaz. The same goes for every aspect of America’s culture.

So, I invite you to enjoy this coming month, all 30 days, from September 15 to October 15. Find a festival and eat an elote en vaso, or indulge in the surreal goodness of a pupusa. Listen to some Tigres del Norte while drinking some Café de Olla from your local coffee shop. Go read a Sandra Cisneros novel or Lorna Dee Cervantes poem while you wait for the newest film by Eugenio Derbez to start. Enjoy, live, and love everything Latino, and take your time, you have a whole month, not to mention the rest of your life.

Agustin Loredo III, Mexican American Studies, South Houston High School

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