Opinion: We need to stop whitewashing Hispanic Heritage Month

Photo courtesy of Rodnae Productions

The majority of people who wish me a happy Cinco de Mayo every year don’t know what the day actually celebrates. Instead, they see it as an excuse to seek out deals at Mexican fast-food chains and make a post on social media about their love for tacos.

They don’t know that the holiday celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, which took place during a war never mentioned in any of my world history courses.

This consumerist view of Hispanic celebrations doesn’t only happen in May. Every year, it also shows up from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, otherwise known as Hispanic Heritage Month.

The city of Boise is no stranger to this celebration. Different events and promotions have been hosted by Boise organizations to celebrate Hispanic heritage, including live music and performances.

While these events are organized with good intention, many of them ultimately feel like “hispandering,” a term referring to the pandering of Hispanic communities by politicians or corporations to gain their favor without actually providing any measurable level of support.

[Photo of a woman dancing to a mariachi band]
Photo courtesy of Rodnae Productions

The best way to support members of the Latinx community — and offer honest representation — is through treating the month as an opportunity to learn and educate oneself on the accomplishments, struggles and history of Latinx people.

Being Latinx myself, I’m surprised by all the history I never learned about my own country. While I recognize that there is too much history in too many countries to be concisely taught in our primary education, the fact that 13% of Boise residents identify as Latinx makes it all the more relevant to include more Latinx history in academic curriculums.

Up until 2021, I didn’t know about the lynch mobs in the American West that had killed thousands of Latinx people and children from the 19th century through the early 20th century. I didn’t know that seven years before Brown vs. Board, California had separate schools for white and Mexican students. I didn’t know that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the first Hispanic-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

To make matters worse, it’s not just me; many of my Latinx peers also don’t know a lot about these historically significant events.

Making Hispanic Heritage Month more commercially viable shouldn’t have to mean ignoring the history that inspired the month to begin with. Stories of prejudice, triumph and oppression shouldn’t have to be whitewashed or filtered for the sake of the listener. History doesn’t get to discriminate between the good and the bad.

Hispanic Heritage Month events highlighting Latinx authors, inventors, artists and accomplished political leaders are often the ones that teach me the most about Latin American people and their cultures. The Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs has hosted events like these before, such as the Hispanic Latin Leadership Roundtable Conversation. 

Additionally, while Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect occasion to become more active and informed about Hispanic history and culture; this effort should not be reserved solely for those 30 days.

Focusing on the awareness of the lives, history and culture of Latinx communities during Hispanic Heritage Month is only part of the solution. The next step would be to incorporate more of this history in Idaho’s academic curriculums, an idea that has been proposed in multiple schools nationwide.

Of course, it’s good to enjoy the discounts on Mexican food and appreciate the shows and displays of Latinx culture, despite potential consumerist intentions. However, when it comes to a community that is so present, vibrant and somehow underrepresented in our community, I say let’s take it one step further. 

Let’s go out of our way to learn about Hispanic history. Let’s celebrate Latinx residents in Boise who have helped shape the city and make it a better place, such as Judge Sergio Gutierrez who became Idaho’s first Latino judge or Ismael Fernandez, one of the three council members in Idaho’s first all-Latino city council

Let’s learn more about a crucial part of our own community that is so often swept under the rug.

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