September 15, Mexican Independence Day, through October 15, which coincides with Christopher Columbus discovering the Americas, is Hispanic Heritage Month. During this month Independence Day is celebrated by Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Chile.
The original idea of Hispanic Heritage Day, which later then morphed into Heritage Month, was to highlight the contributions and importance of the Hispanic community to the culture and betterment of the United States. In the 60s this presented an opportunity to bring forth and share with our readers the important role that the Hispanic community played in contributed to the growth of the United States from Admiral David Glasgow Farragut of the Civil War who is also known for his phrase “Dam, the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” to Elena Ocha who was the first female Hispanic astronaut and is from the City of La Mesa in San Diego County.
We reveled in the opportunity to bring these stories forward. In the 60s and 70s the Hispanic communities, in particular the Mexican American community, was fighting for self determination, to identify themselves, and for equal rights within American society. We were seen as second class citizens.
For the other 11 months of each year we primarily talked about contemporary issues and worked toward the future. But during Hispanic Heritage Month we would take the opportunity to share our history and contributions to the United States. We often brought forth stories that some would not believe were true. For example when we identified Admiral Farragut as being Hispanic we received angry letters stating that this was not true, they could not believe that an American Civil War hero was Hispanic. But we also showed and reminded our readers that we belonged and were an integral part of American society. Not a second class citizen as often times we were led to believe.
We have celebrated Hispanic Heritage for 39 years. Today, Hispanics are a part of everyday conversation. For most non-Hispanics there is probably not a week that doesn’t go by where they don’t enjoy some sort of Hispanic food. On television Hispanics are seen more and more and not as maids but in starring roles. Politically speaking Hispanics are getting elected at record numbers. In 1968 there were no Hispanic representatives in elected offices, prior to that there had been only two elected representatives in the State of California. Today there are 26. Hispanic voters are growing and soon in California Hispanics will be the largest ethnic group in the State.
With that said, though, it doesn’t mean we have arrived and are on equal status. We are still the least educated ethnic group in the country. We still are not receiving our fair share in employment and in receiving government contracts . All we have to do is look at the City of San Diego’s minority contracting record, which is dismal. Hispanics are under-insured, and over charged for home loans. And of course there is the never ending debate on immigration and the us-against-them mentality that seems to cloud every discussion when it comes to this subject. Why can’t we look at this issue from a mutually beneficial point of view?
Hispanics are everywhere and our culture abounds. It is good that we celebrate Hispanic Heritage. But we still have much work to do so that we can get to the point, like on St. Patrick’s day, when we can all for one day become Hispanics and share in our mutual joy as equal partners in our society.
Viva La Raza!