Hispanic Heritage Month should be more than Latin food and Bad Bunny listening parties.
This year marks my second “celebration” of Hispanic Heritage Month in the continental United States; I’ve lived my entire life in Puerto Rico, so I haven’t had the need to celebrate my heritage there.
When I think of Hispanic heritage, I don’t know what to think about honestly. Merriam-Webster says heritage is “something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor,” but have I acquired something that represents the American ideal of Hispanics?
No. I don’t think of myself as a Hispanic. I always say to myself, “Soy primero Boricua, después Puertorriqueño, then Latino and if you need to, I can be Hispanic for you.” Hispanics are not all the same, we don’t have the same interests or cultural/historical backgrounds, so don’t call me a Hispanic; call me a Boricua.
One of my friends in my film class was making a documentary about football and asked me to be one of the interviewees. “Yeah sure,” I said. “I’m not as passionate as you about football but I don’t mind answering a few questions about how I started to get more engaged with it.”
His first question started with “as someone from Puerto Rico who didn’t know about football…” and I couldn’t stop laughing after I heard that. Again, don’t ask me just because I’m Boricua, ask me because I’m a friend.
Never mind, we Hispanics have a thing in common: our shared war against American ignorance. Last week, I was in the DC metro on my way to the airport after spending a weekend with a friend when an older guy sat next to me. He didn’t last more than a minute in the awkward silence that traveled with us, so he started a conversation with me, just the typical stuff you ask a stranger.
At some point, the conversation shifted to how I got to learn and speak English if I lived in a place where everyone spoke in Spanish. Then he kept talking about how the immigrants that come from Central America are refusing to learn English and then started to debate why they don’t go to college as a way to get better jobs.
I was so angry because I was physically confined and had to keep listening to this guy’s rant about the language and the cultural diversity that supposedly makes the United States what it is. I didn’t have it in me to fight with the guy. But how ironic was it that this uncomfortable moment happened on my way to the Ronald Reagan National Airport, the president who signed National Hispanic Heritage Month into law.
“All of America is becoming ever more aware of the contributions that Hispanics have made to American life, American culture and America’s destiny,” said then-President Reagan in 1988 while signing the last Hispanic Heritage Week proclamation. I guess he was looking at southern and central America.
There are more things I could complain about, like how I have to pronounce my name with an English pronunciation so people can get it correctly or how I have to justify choosing Fairfield, Conn. when home is four hours away by plane; but I choose not to.
So yeah, keep listening to Bad Bunny, keep eating empanadas and enjoying the sazón and flavor of our Latin food, but don’t make me celebrate your version of my heritage.
No me llames Hispano, llámame Boricua.