Liz Alarcón: So here we are, again, Maribel it’s another Hispanic Heritage Month or Latino Heritage Month, or Latine Heritage Month, or Latinx Heritage Month, or what else?
Maribel Quezada Smith: Or all the other things that define us.
Liz Alarcón: Exactly. We’re here again, as we know you all, Pulso fam, listening to us every year from September 15th to October 15th in the US, we celebrate our Latino, Hispanic heritage. And this month, this celebration comes with a lot of good, some bad, and that’s what we’re gonna be unpacking today. In this episode of the The Pulso Pod. I figured Maribel, I would start with a positive approach to the things that I love to see every year. You tell me the same, and then we of course have to go into the negative. Te parece?
Maribel Quezada Smith: Oh, we’re starting with a positive. I love this new leaf we’re turning.
Liz Alarcón: Okay, I’m gonna get right into it. So what do I love to see this month? Honestly, I love to see how different parts of the country bring out the folklore during this time of year. We know that this time of year is to celebrate the independences of many of our Latin American countries. And so to see our communities come out in song and dance and have block parties and just see our traditions flying high, it warms my heart. I love to see it. And it just makes me so proud to be Latina.
Maribel Quezada Smith: I actually really love how it brings us together in some way. I mean, I know that we’re very different people. We’re we all have our specific cultures and our unique traditions, but I think it’s cool to see us come together in a specific time of the year where we are super proud and sharing even some of these traditions together. Whether you’re from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, it does feel like we’re coming together a little bit more and it’s exciting.
Liz Alarcón: Yeah, exactly. I could not agree more. And of course, before we even hopped on the mic, as we always do mud bed, we always have things to complain about. Rightfully so, because this month is not always used for the positive. There are definitely things that annoy us every single year during this time.
Maribel Quezada Smith: Can I go first?
Liz Alarcón: Please.
Maribel Quezada Smith: Things that annoy us about Hispanic Heritage Month. So here’s the one that’s like the most annoying. I hate it when brands show their performative actions on Hispanic Heritage Month. I just I’m so annoyed to see that brands continue to just post content that’s performative. For example, they’ll only talk about Hispanic writers during Hispanic Heritage Month, or they will only feature Hispanic movies. It just feels like it’s the only time of the year that we get any shine. And to me, that’s very performative. Also it’s Hispanic heritage. So we don’t necessarily wanna just feature people during Hispanic Heritage Month that are Hispanic, just for the sake of it. Here are five Hispanic businesses you can buy from. What?
Liz Alarcón: Totally Maribel. Ooh I could not agree more with you. And speaking of those listicles, that’s one of my pet peeves. Oh my God. And you can tell that, especially obviously Pulso fam, we’re talking about more mainstream brands, right. That like, just remember that we exist during this time of year, but it’s like, they recycle the same listical every year, and it’s the same people that they highlight. And I’m, I’m not even gonna name names, so you all don’t come after me, but we all know there’s like five famous Latinos that get featured every year. And every year they dust off the listicle, they post it during Hispanic Heritage Month. Como que si no hubiese mas gente en nuestra comunidad.
Maribel Quezada Smith: There’s a lot of lazy journalism that happens during Hispanic Heritage Month. And that is a big pet peeve of mine as well. Like do some research, reach out, expand your circles and find some new people that you can feature or new businesses or new creators, whatever.
Liz Alarcón: As you all can probably tell already from Maribel and I’s tone here, this really bothers us. We are very passionate about this issue, cuz we’re passionate about all things Latino, and we are not the only ones who have thoughts, both positive, some not so much about this month that comes around every year. When we kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked our Pulso fam on Instagram, two questions, what they love about Hispanic, Latino Heritage Month, and what makes them cringe about the celebration. Dozens of our followers answered and here are some of my favorite responses. What makes them cringe about Hispanic, Latino Heritage Month? Someone said performative activism. Yep. We definitely hate to see that. Businesses who aim to profit off our heritage. Mm-hmm. When white people think it’s okay to wear traditional Hispanic clothing. Over drinking to celebrate. Puerto Rico not having independence. Appropriators slapping a jalapeÃ±o on something and calling it Latino. Oof. Yeah. We hate to see that. To go back to the positive. When we asked our Pulso fam on Instagram, what they love to see during Hispanic, Latino Heritage Month, this is what they shared. Celebrations, our people, Hispanic farm workers being honored for their work, sharing our traditional food for other people to cherish that aspect of our culture more at that goes. Always love more at tacos, and finally our stories. We love to see all of that too.
To go deeper into the meaning of this month, we invited a couple of Latina historians to the pod. First, we spoke with Professor Silvia Arom, professor of Latino history at Brandeis University
Silvia Arrom: We’ve been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month since 1988. So that’s been 34 years now since Congress authorized it as a month to celebrate Hispanic culture and Hispanic achievements. This was the time when Black History Month was proclaimed, Women’s History Month. And then a year later, Hispanic Heritage Month.
Liz Alarcón: And she explained how it wasn’t by chance that these were created, it was through the hard fought efforts of activists.
Silvia Arrom: There were very visible, militant, civil rights movements that, put them in our national consciousness, the Black Power movement, the feminist movement, and a much less known brown power movement. So these history heritage months, were meant to rectify that neglect and restore Blacks, women, and Latinos to the rightful place in history. It’s what scholars call a social construction or an invented category. Applying to a group that had never considered itself a cohesive group before, that had never been seen as a cohesive group, and for which there hadn’t been a name until now.
Liz Alarcón: So, do you think that Hispanic Heritage Month has done more to help advance this invented blocks status in the us? Or do you think it has hindered us?
Silvia Arrom: No, I think it has advanced the use of the umbrella term. It has been used more and more and more over the years. So I think Hispanic Heritage Month can be very useful. To celebrate the diverse cultures, but I think we have to make it very clear that we’re not a block that we’re not a cohesive group.
Liz Alarcón: I would love some hidden history or untold history that you think us as Latinos don’t often know about our own community.
Silvia Arrom: Well, the narrative we have of US history, is, you know, Columbus sailed the ocean blue 1492, blah, blah, and then boom, the pilgrims and Jamestown. It’s an east coast history. It’s a British colonies history and the history goes from the east coast. We don’t get to the west in the standard narrative till the 19th century. The pioneers are conquering the wilderness. Excuse me. It’s not a wilderness. There are Indigenous people there. And Mexican Americans have been there for centuries already.
Liz Alarcón: Why do you think it’s important for us as Latinos to know about the history of other, um, people who it may not be from our country of origin, why me as a Venezuelan, should I know about the history of Puerto Ricans in this country, or you as a Cuban know the history of Mexicans in this country?
Silvia Arrom: Why should we know the true history of this country? And I think we should all know the true history because we wouldn’t make so many stupid mistakes.
Liz Alarcón: I asked these same questions to Professor Monica Jimenez, Assistant Professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at University of Texas at Austin.
So Professor Jiménez, we are right in of Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated every year from September 15th to October 15th. Can you tell us a bit about the meaning of the celebration? Is it relevant? Does it help us as Latinos? Does it hurt us? What are your thoughts?
Mónica Jiménez: I’ll say it’s disputed territory, right? Because there is the way that it’s commercialized and co-opted and becomes so meaningless. It becomes a very facile way of checking off a box. Oh, we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. So, you know, we’ve met our diversity quota, whatever it is. So I think in that way, I don’t find it useful or relevant.
Liz Alarcón: So let’s pretend you are in a classroom right now. It is the middle of the month and you’re talking to our own community because that’s exactly the audience here listening. Our Pulso fam are Latinos, right? To your point, we also can use this month to learn more about ourselves.
Mónica Jiménez: I teach a lot of classes on race and Latin American and the Caribbean and Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean. So my favorite moments are when students from places that we understand to not be, to not be places where there are a lot of African descended people when they realize that in fact, in their communities, there’s a long history of Black presence. That’s what the conversations should be about right. Broadening what we mean when we say Latinidad and talking about the questions right now, I think, when you kind of get on social media or even when I go to academic conferences and the conversations that I see that are very relevant and urgent to people are about racial identities and about gender, right. And how our communi. Can and should, expand to be inclusive to that kind of diversity, right? So that we can look at, when we say Latino and Latinx, we don’t just mean the sort of stereotypical images that we’ve grown up seeing.
Liz Alarcón: Now that we have the historical context, ‘ets get the perspective of those living Latinidad in practice. We’ve invited two leaders of Latino-serving organizations, one, a legacy institution, the other, a newer organization, to get their take on Hispanic Latino Heritage Month.
Marco Davis: I am Marco Davis, president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Also known as CHCI.
Liz Alarcón: You are here to give us the perspective of Marco and whatever you want, but also because CHCI is such an important legacy, traditional, impactful…
Marco Davis: You’re saying old. I get it. I get it.
Liz Alarcón: Old, but, but pioneer, pioneering organization.
Marco Davis: I’m not a boomer just for the record, unless you decide to shorthand that reference.
Liz Alarcón: Wonderful Marco. So tell us what CHCI does.
Marco Davis: In a few words is a leadership development institute for emerging leaders in the Latino community.
Liz Alarcón: And you all have been around not calling you old, but you all have been around. Right. So the organization was founded in the seventies and I would love for you to tell us a bit more like why in that moment, why was there a need identified for CHCI to exist? And, why are you all still doing the thing today?
Marco Davis: So in the mid 1970s there were three or four or five, depending on the year Hispanic members of Congress who found themselves there together and decided to form a congressional Hispanic caucus, and so they realized there was a need to get more folks like us here in Washington. Too many in our community have been isolated, have been marginalized, have not been able to be a part of those networks have not had those relationships. And as a result, they’re not able to leverage those opportunities in order to be at the decision making table, in order to ensure that our communities looked after and supported and that our needs and goals are met.
Liz Alarcón: And just looking at the history of CHCI, you all happen to have been founded. I’m sure it was not coincidence around the same time when Hispanic Heritage Month was starting to become a thing. Why is this celebration still important? What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean for our communities? And what role are you all playing in highlighting us during this month?
Marco Davis: We’ve continued to hold our activities and our biggest events during Hispanic Heritage Month, each year. And to your question the reason why. Work these activities and Hispanic Heritage Month is still important is because sadly, even as we are one in five people in the United States overwhelmingly the United States among non-Latinos, uh, far too little is known about us far too little is understood about our culture, about our presence, about the size of us. People are not really aware that we’re 20 per almost 20% of the population. Dates people don’t understand the breadth and diversity of the fact that we have folks who come from 20, roughly different countries of origin. The fact that we have folks who’ve been in the United States just a few weeks or months, and we have folks who trace their lineage back to this earth before the 13 colonies, right? Evil Longoria, the famous actor, and now director and producer, loves to proudly proclaim that she is a ninth generation Texan. Her family was in what is now Texas long before Texas was ever even thinking about being part of the United States. And so that’s why Hispanic Heritage Month is important because it provides an opportunity for us to share with the rest of the nation, and remind the rest of the nation who we are to provide a spotlight on us, to help educate and inform folks about who we are. And the interesting sort of unfortunate, but also necessary point is it actually provides us an opportunity to educate ourselves because we don’t show up in textbooks because they’re not enough, published books about us because we don’t show up in, in media or in news as much, or the way we should. Even within our own community, we often don’t know some of the truth, some of our rich heritage, some of the contributions we’ve made to the nation. And so it’s also important to provide a special time when we can really focus on this and really celebrate, but also learn about our own community or about our own history. And again, and share that with the rest of the country.
Liz Alarcón: Got it, Marco. So for you, you see this period as a way, again, not only to galvanize ourselves and feel prideful about our contributions, but you do also see it as an essential way to let other people who are not of Latino descent. Remember, and let it be known that we are here and we are big contributors to our country. That’s interesting because a lot of the debate around HHM is centered around the Latino perspective of do we need it for ourselves or a lot of people question that tokenization, right? We’re not just here during. One month of the year, but we’re here year round. And so it’s interesting to hear your take around how it really has a twofold effect as to why we’re still celebrating.
Marco Davis: Yeah. I mean, I, I didn’t realize it was a debate. I don’t think it has to be either or right. I think it can be both. I think the reality is yes. Of course we should be celebrating our culture and our heritage year around. And, and I certainly do, and I think many of us do. I think the country should be acknowledging our contributions and we should be fully integrated into society year round and on an everyday basis as well. The reality is that’s not the case right now. Right. And because there’s so much misconception because there’s confusion because there’s a lack of knowledge and understanding, as I said, sometimes we’re an afterthought. Sometimes we’re forgotten and left off the radar screen. And so in my mind, at a minimum this month provides an opportunity to spotlight us, to highlight us to really challenge the rest of the country, to think deliberately and consciously about us, and to focus on our community and contributions. And I think through that, we’ll grow to the point where we can explain to folks, we don’t just exist from September 15th to October 15th. We’re not just contributing to the nation during those 30 days, but in fact, we have been long before and we’ll continue year round. But I think this provides a focal point for us to really raise up our agenda. Our needs our profile. I see it to be not unlike again as has been the case in us history, not unlike Black History Month, which when I was a child, right. which I will say embarrassing was the seventies, Black History Month was one of the only times I ever heard in school about Martin Luther king and George Washington, Carver and rose. Parks. And yes, with time as that became more universally known and, and made aware of people first realized that it was oversimplified, that all of Black history wasn’t just Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver. And that there was a much more rich legacy in history and tradition and culture. And also the Black community and Black culture became more integrated into American society and American culture. And I would argue, we now recognize and acknowledge, and certainly in the last couple of years have come to appreciate and pay more attention to the Black community and the Black population in The United States and its contributions to American history and to America’s future, right. And that’s been something that took time that didn’t happen overnight. And I think the same can happen in the Latino community. And it’s just where we are on that journey. That we’re a little bit earlier in the process of bringing the rest of our fellow Americans along.
Liz Alarcón: I love that, you know, the arc of history bends towards justice, but it takes time. I think that’s an important reminder, especially for the young people that are gonna be listening to us, that we want change now we want progress, and as long as we are making progress, we’re on the right track.Now, I want to pass the mic to the younger generation, haha, kidding, Marco, I’m done trolling you about your age. I want to pass the mic to Arianna, who is leading the charge at an organization that’s helping to empower and activate nuestra gente year round.
Arianna Genis: Thanks for having me, Liz, my name’s Arianna Genis and I am a Chicana from Minnesota. I always start off with that because there are Latinas in Minnesota and that’s important to name. I want folks to feel seen. And so I’ve been a grassroots organizer, turned electoral campaigner turned Mijente staff member. And so now I am part of the Mijente team. I’m the Director of Local Partnerships and I’ve been a part of this organization for around almost three years, and have been a fan for longer than that ever since they started.
Liz Alarcón: Tell us more about Mijente. When did the organization start? What do you all do? And, and why do you do what you?
Arianna Genis: Of course. So Mijente started in, was founded in 2015, 2016. And so I think what’s important to name of that time period is that, you know, it is born out of the, not one more deportation campaign that was going on under the Obama administration. And it was born in the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. And subsequently in the rise of the Trumpist, uh, white nationalist movement as well. And I say that because we are born outta struggle, and with the dedication to say hard things like deportation should not be happening under any president. Right. And under wanting to have harder conversations about what it means to struggle for the rights of our communities and to advocate for us to have more, right. Not just to a seat at a table, but an acknowledgement that we are disproportionately being impacted by the growing inequality happening in the country.
Liz Alarcón: So right before hopping on the Pulso Pod, we were talking about how busy we are in this time of year. We’re nearing the midterm elections, and we are, of course now in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month. Tell me a bit about how the work that you all are doing intersects with these two moments in time. And I would love to know your real, true feelings, a good, bad ugly on, on what this month means for Latinos.
Arianna Genis: You know, I’ll speak from the respective of someone who’s part of Mijente. So I think we organizationally feel as an organization that builds power with Latinx communities across the country, right? Political power, um, that Hispanic Heritage Month is not entirely relevant to a lot of the work we do. Not that it is not important to celebrate the contributions of our communities and our cultura to this country and across the globe. Um, but more in the sense that, you know, there’s also a reality that when we jump to celebrating, we really ignore, the complexity of the Black, Latino, and Indigenous experience within that identity. And that it ignores the continued harm that our communities are experiencing. It ignores the desperate need for policies that improve the lives of our communities. And so yes, folks can do what they want in terms of celebrating that month. And on our end, what we focus on is really supporting grassroots organizing efforts across the country that are fighting for it, that are not afraid to lean into those complex conversations of how we build a Latinx movement that’s pro Black, that’s pro gente, that’s pro Indigenous, that’s pro worker and so forth.
Liz Alarcón: Yeah, I totally hear that. My favorite phrase is “yes and”. How can we do both? Not just celebrate, but to bring attention to how far we still have to.
Arianna Genis: Absolutely. I think that as opportunities come up, like this one we’ll take them. If there is an opportunity to spotlight the work of some of our closest organizational partners that are, for example, really fighting to close down a detention center or are fighting against cases of deportation or are ringing the bell against the human rights violations happening at detention centers and are saying, why do these even exist when they’re making profits off of putting our people in cages? Right? Then we will use that opportunity to highlight those stories, in the development of the political capacity of our people and of our brilliance, you know?
Liz Alarcón: What are your pet peeves during Hispanic Heritage, that you see all the time that you’re like, oh, I just wish non Latinos would stop doing this.
Arianna Genis: I would say a general pet peeve is a leaning towards a very superficial take of the Latinx community. It’s talking about, you know, taking three or four people and saying they represent everyone. It’s not really representing that breadth that I described about acknowledging Blackness and Indigene and different classes and different genders that are part of a very, very big community. Um, and I think really treating us as a monolith, right. I’ll also say that another thing is talking about the Latinx community as if our only value is as voters to this country. It is true that in the 2020 election, for the first time in history, we became the second largest voting block. There can be powers in numbers, but I think that transformative change really requires more from us, not just more of us. Our contributions expand beyond that and our power expands beyond the ballot box. And part of that is gonna be on us to insert it. But I also think that there are people who are not Latinx, who could definitely do a little bit more work to delve a little deeper into the complexities of our communities.
Liz Alarcón: That was beautiful . That’s exactly it. And that’s why the work that you all are doing is so important. The deep relationship building with nuestra gente every day on the ground to not only hear their grievances, but to approach our community from an asset based perspective, like what do we already have? What do we already contribute? How are we already powerful and how can we just go deeper on that power is just how I see me?
Arianna Genis: I’m glad cuz I think that’s what we strive to be. At Mijente we talk about needing to build power sin el estado, contra el estado, y desde el estado, right. So against the state, within the state, without the state, so work can look like, supporting efforts with our local partners in Philadelphia who are continuing their mutual aid efforts that they started in response to the pandemic. And diaper dispensaries that then become organizing opportunities to get mothers, to get involved with a campaign and to start talking about the issues impacting their lives. And other young folks who are also mobilizing the Latino vote and see that as a tool to really continue developing the leadership in our communities to build more power to advance an agenda towards el buen vivir. Right towards this racial, economic and climate justice that all of us deserve.
Liz Alarcón: Well there you have it. Like all things about our community, it’s rich and complex and worth unpacking together, especially this month, but really, year round. What I take from these four conversations as we put the magnifying glass on our heritage is that we have the power to shape the narrative about ourselves. And like Arianna said, to tell the right stories will require more from us, not just more of us. Happy Hispanic Latino Heritage Month, Pulso fam.