Daily Kos Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2022

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Our Equity Commitment at Daily Kos

“At Daily Kos, the Equity Council works to build a better organization and community by focusing on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Kos Media. The Equity Council issues this statement as a commitment to these ideals, and to encourage Daily Kos to take action internally and externally to support the movement.”

Our work in the fall of 2022 is no less urgent than it was in the summer of 2020, when we were reeling from the disproportionately deadly impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities and also from the flagrant, ubiquitous, systemic disregard for the rights of Black and brown people to live in peace and safety anywhere in this country.

We cannot afford to continue the status quo in any area; a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is the antithesis of the healing we need. Hence our original initiative has grown. Lauren Sue, a current co-chair, describes the aims of the Equity Council:

We don’t discard people here. We celebrate each other. We laugh with each other, and we respect and support each other. We want that work to continue every day and to expand to the larger site community until it’s no longer work, until respecting each other and valuing each other is innate.

The Origins of National Hispanic Heritage Month

The month-long commemoration we observe starting on Sept. 15 began as “National Hispanic Heritage Week” on Sept. 17, 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed P.L. 90–498 into law. The start date of Sept. 15 was chosen to honor the independence days for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, all declaring their independence from Spain on that date in 1821. This week in September includes the anniversaries of several other Independence Days for newly-constituted nations announcing the end of their colonial status. Mexico and Chile declared their independence from Spain in 1810 (Sept. 16 and 18, respectively); almost two full centuries later, on Sept. 21, 1981, Belize declared its independence from Great Britain.

Twenty years later after the commemorative week was established, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation expanding the observation to one full month, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, which then brought Indigenous Peoples’ Day within that span.

An overdue but limited acknowledgement

The first official U.S. hat tip to “Hispanic Heritage” likely arose from the upsurge in civil rights organizing occurring in the late 1960s, a period when Black, Chicano, Indigenous, and anti-imperialist liberation movements were growing in strength and impact across the country and around the globe.

The intrinsic irony of such a commemoration remains at least as pertinent now as it was then. In his signing proclamation, LBJ highlighted “the great contribution to our national heritage made by our people of Hispanic descent—not only in the fields of culture, business, and science, but also through their valor in battle.” Odd phrasing, perhaps, for emphasizing a militaristic claim to U.S. identity–except that September of 1968 was an extremely fraught moment in domestic and international politics for the U.S., coming as it did right after the chaotic and violent suppression of anti-Vietnam War protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Then as now, the gesture also overlooks the great variety in routes through which people throughout the Western Hemisphere have become “our people of Hispanic descent.”
To name only three:

  • 55% of what had become Mexico in 1810–more than a million square miles, or all of present-day California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming–was ceded to U.S. control by the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty ended the Mexican-American War but engendered conflicts over citizenship status, property claims, and personal mobility of the people descended from the inhabitants of those areas that continue today.

  • Puerto Rico, brought under U.S. control in 1898 through the terms ending the Spanish-American War, remains a U.S. colony whose residents–-American citizens–have little ability for self-determination or self-protection against U.S.-backed abuse and neglect.

“While Puerto Ricans were afforded U.S. citizenship in the first half of the 20th century, the fundamental problem of the island’s colonial status persists. Over a hundred years have passed since its forced annexation, yet Puerto Rico remains in a legal limbo of inequality and disenfranchisement relative to the rest of the U.S. polity.”
Luna Martinez, “A Colony Is a Colony Is a Colony: Puerto Rico and the Courts”

  • Cuba, itself nominally independent as of the end of the Spanish-American War, has been profoundly compromised economically and politically by U.S. hostilities directed toward the country since Fidel Castro’s ascension to power in 1959.

These different historical and political trajectories continue to influence political, economic, and social policies promoted by various constituencies within the U.S. Hispanic community.

Who is ‘Hispanic’? How does this identity differ from ‘Latino’?

That seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer. In the words of three Pew Research Center analysts, “The most common approach to answering these questions is straightforward: Who is Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren’t.” The potential political power of the self-defined Hispanic community is considerable. The analysts continue: “Pew Research Center uses this approach and the U.S. Census Bureau largely does so too, as do most other research organizations that conduct public opinion surveys. By this way of counting, the Census Bureau estimates there were roughly 62.1 million Hispanics in the United States as of 2020, making up 19% of the nation’s population.”

The distinction between “Hispanic” and “Latino” is also relevant as well as fraught. Strictly speaking, the difference relies upon linguistic/cultural associations contrasted with geographical ones. Thus “Hispanic” refers to people who are currently Spanish-language speakers and/or are descendants from them. The geographical term, “Latino,” is far more comprehensive, encompassing people residing in countries in “Latin America” and their descendants. That geographical area would include North and South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Thus, for example, a French-speaking resident of Haiti, or a descendant of one, might choose to self-identify as Latino/a/x, but would be unlikely to self-identify as Hispanic. Relevant Venn diagram

One attempt to clarify the matter in Britannica also includes this key point: “It is important to clarify that the categories refer only to a person’s origin and ancestry. A Latino/a or Hispanic person can be any race or color.” Current U.S. Census Bureau policy, which has evolved significantly over time, maintains this distinction, noting that “Race and Hispanic origin are two separate concepts in the federal statistical system.” For an engaging and clear exploration of why this question matters, check out this 2016 Vox article featuring an episode of MTV’s Decoded hosted by Franchesca Ramsey (with Kat Lazo), “Are Hispanics White?”

Ultimately, no matter the classification method, neither category is monolithic, and the constituencies within either group respond distinctively (and not necessarily uniformly) to the common obstacles they face. Such reactions include contesting the definition/existence of the very category.

Current debates over ‘Latinidad’

Who benefits from these categories, based as they are on ever-shifting political and cultural dynamics? The answer again depends on one’s point of view.

“Historically, the forging of this ethnic identity has been understood as a necessity in the face of white supremacy and anti-Mexican Juan Crow laws. In response to recent events, it’s been useful for raising awareness of migrant family separations, Washington’s insistence on militarizing borders in Mexico and Central America, and mass shooters warning of a “Hispanic invasion” of the United States. Even so, its most vocal critics, who are often young and black or indigenous, have not minced words in their critique of what they see as an exclusionary identity fabricated by—and for the benefit of—white and mestizo elites and the American political class.”
Miguel Salazar, “The Problem with Latinidad,” The Nation (19 September 2019).

Nevertheless, the construction of a free-standing National Museum of the American Latino, long-proposed and finally in progress, offers another important acknowledgment of the ways that the cultures, traditions, struggles, and aspirations of Hispanic/Latinx people have defined the United States. Some of those influences are explored via ¡Presente! a major installation currently hosted by the Smithsonian Institute, in the National Museum of American History. Located in the Molina Family Latino Gallery, this exhibit is considered the first of many such examinations to follow. Visit ¡Presente! online

At Daily Kos, our Staff and Community writers cover important issues related to Hispanic/Latinx communities, striving to keep you aware and informed.

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Current Daily Kos Activism

Hispanic/Latinx Advocacy Organizations

  • Afro-Latino Association for Policy & Advocacy: This organization’s mission is to serve as a resource center, safe space, policy advocacy for legislation at all levels of government, cultural advocacy of cultures, histories, and experiences of Afro-Latinos in the Americas and the Caribbean. The ALAPA aims to expand the conversation about identity, culture, liberation and justice for people by facilitating, developing, and collaborating, with partners internationally and on the local level.
  • CASA: The CASA family of organizations (CASA (c3), CASA in Action (c4), and CASA in Action PAC) is the foremost Latino and immigrant organization in the mid-Atlantic region and a national leader in supporting immigrant families and ensuring that all individuals have the core supports necessary for full participation in society.
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities: Established in 1986, HACU represents more than 500 colleges and universities in Puerto Rico, the U.S., Latin America, and Spain. HACU is dedicated to uplifting schools with a high concentration of Hispanic students.
  • Hispanic Federation: Hispanic Federation (HF) is the nation’s premier Latino nonprofit membership organization. Founded in 1990, HF seeks to empower and advance the Hispanic community, support Hispanic families, and strengthen Latino institutions through work in the areas of education, health, immigration, civic engagement, economic empowerment, and the environment.
  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund: The Hispanic Scholarship Fund provides scholarships and support to Hispanic students through its many programs, including the Hispanic Careers Pathway Initiative, which prepares students for careers they can thrive in for the long term.
  • LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona): Living United for Change in Arizona is an organization led by changemakers fighting for social, racial, and economic transformation and committed to human dignity, inclusion, equity, and collective growth.
  • MALDEF: Founded in 1968, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Our commitment is to protect and defend the rights of all Latinos living in the United States and the constitutional rights of all Americans.
  • PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste): This organization fights to empower farmworkers and working Latinx families in Oregon by building community, increasing Latinx representation in elections, and policy advocacy on both the national and state levels.
  • UnidosUS: Since 1968, UnidosUS has served the Hispanic community through our research, policy analysis, and state and national advocacy efforts, as well as in its program work in communities nationwide and through its network of more than 300 affiliates across the country.
  • Taller Salud: Taller Salud is a community based feminist organization in Puerto Rico dedicated to improving women’s access to health care, to reducing violence within the community and to encourage economic growth through education and activism. Founded in 1979, Taller Salud is an independent, non-government based, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
  • UndocuBlack: Founded in January 2016 the UndocuBlack Network is a multi-generational network of currently and formerly undocumented Black people that fosters community, facilitates access to resources, and advocates to transform the realities of our people, so we are thriving and living our fullest lives.
  • UFW (United Farm Workers): Begun in the early 1960s by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong, and other organizers, the United Farm Workers of America is the nation’s first enduring and largest farm workers’ union. The UFW continues its activism in major agricultural sectors, chiefly in California.
  • United We Dream: United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country. They envision a society which celebrates our diversity and they believe in leading a multi-ethnic, intersectional path to get there.
  • Voto Latino: Voto Latino is a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy.

General resources