Some friends asked me why Chicanos/Latinos need to celebrate the Sept. 15-Oct. 15 Hispanic Heritage Month. “Aren’t you Americans now?” they asked. I answered, “Actually, we all should celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month because this is an American celebration, especially when we celebrate what are called Fiestas Patrias, or patriotic holidays, because that means that we honor two patrias, two countries, usually understood in the U.S. to mean the United States and Mexico.
In Mexico, the Fiestas Patrias tradition celebrates five patriotic holidays:: March 21, the birthday of Benito Juarez, the Zapotec Indian who is Mexico’s greatest president; May 1, May Day, which is Labor Day in Mexico; May 5, el Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in which the Mexicans defeated an army of French invaders; Sept. 15-16, El Grito de Dolores, literally the Cry of Pains or Sorrows, which was the rallying cry of the 1810 Mexican War of Independence against Spain; and November 20, the day that Francisco Madero began the Revolution of 1910 against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz who had ruled Mexico with an iron fist for 31 years. These holidays teach us to recognize that Mexico has had a very painful history, that it is still a country facing many challenges, like many other Latin countries, but growing into a modern stable democracy.
In this country Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the Mexican traditions, but because millions of Chicanos and other Hispanic people from all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are now proud Americans, Hispanic Heritage Month is an all-inclusive commemoration.
This means that we celebrate not only the unique mixture of our Spanish, Native American, and Afro-Caribbean heritages and the resulting diversity of many cultures (there is no such thing as one Latino culture), but that we also celebrate what we have become as Americans living in the second largest Hispanic country in the world. There are 60 million Latinos in the U.S. We are the largest group of people of color, a designation that has to be qualified because in appearance we range from black, to brown, to cafe au lait, to blonde and blue-eyed. This is a reflection of the amalgamation of the many gene pools in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. It is a lesson that we can teach, a lesson in human bonding that the United States should take to heart. This is the best reason for Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S.
During the special time of Hispanic Heritage Month, and every day of the year, what do we want to tell our fellow citizens? That we have found our home in the United States. That we are proud to be Americans. That the majority of us are U.S. citizens, that most of us speak only English and rapidly becoming mainstreamed. That millions of us are not immigrants because we are descended from ancestors who were in the Southwest long before the arrival of Anglo Americans. That we didn’t come to the United States. The United States came to us because the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1846-48 and wrenched away half of Mexico’s national territory, what are now the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado.
That made us Americans even if America many times discriminates unfairly against us. But no matter. We are still very much in love with the USA. What kind of love is this? In Washington D.C. there is a monument that tells a story by the names carved into it. It is The Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. When you stand in front of that black polished granite you see the names of soldiers who died for their country. There are thousands of Spanish surnames. On no other public monument are we recognized like we are on The Wall. We earned that inclusion on the Roll Call of Honor because we paid for it in blood.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS. He teaches Mexico/U.S. Border Studies and U.S. Military History. He is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.