What is Hispanic Heritage Month? Seriously, I'm Colombian and I have no idea. I don't remember it being a big deal in school. I can't recall seeing commercials on TV reminding me about the celebration of my heritage during mid-September through mid-October. (Honestly, who chose those dates?)
According to HispanicHeritageMonth.org, this "month" is where "we recognize the important contributions made by the presence of Hispanics and Latino Americans to the United States". That sounds awesome! So, where and when does this happen? Is there a Facebook invite I missed? A hashtag I'm supposed to be using? If there is a celebration, it must not be about Latinos. Trust me, we celebrate anything– my family turns a 5 year old's birthday party into a 4am dancing and drinking fest.
Something feels odd, I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's the fact that although Hispanics make up the second largest ethnic group and 17% of the total U.S. population, it still feels like we're hidden in the kitchens and cleaning rooms of America. Never mind that Latinos/Hispanics have the highest movie attendance average among other races/ethnic groups. According to the theatrical market statistics report released by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Hispanics continue to be the largest growing percentage of moviegoers and more likely than any other ethnic group to go to the movies. In contrast, Caucasian moviegoers have declined to less than half of what it had been and other ethnic groups have remained stable since 2009.
Now pair this with the study done by the the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California showing that out of all the characters in the top grossing films from 2007-2013, only 4.9% were Hispanic/Latino characters. So what does this say about America? The facts are there, one ethnic group continues to grow, yet remains under-represented within the country in which it lives.
It's not just movies. Hispanics lag behind other racial and ethnic groups in college enrollment. In politics, although there's been an increase in Latinos serving in elected office, only 3.3% of nationally elected seats are held by Latinos. Make no mistake about it though, once election season comes around, everyone will be running around speaking Spanish and talking immigration trying to dip their hands in the 25.2 million Hispanic voters in 2014.
It feels like we're the unwanted child. How am I supposed to feel proud celebrating my heritage in a country whose actions have done the opposite in accepting me as a member of society? How can I truly feel proud of what my people have done for the history of America when I had to change my name from Hernando to Josh to rent an apartment? Or why I had to start including my picture when submitting job applications because of fear I was getting pushed aside for my name?
There was a glimmer of hope. Last year, PBS released a six-hour documentary called "Latino Americans", highlighting the stories and history of Latinos and Hispanics in America. I guess I should settle for yearly replays of a documentary that I didn't hear about until after it aired. Besides that, what reason do I have to celebrate? Why should I be excited? It's not like there's some bug event that has a heave Hispanic influence and seen nationwide by everyone. It's not like the past two years, the Major League Baseball (MLB) Most Valuable Player Award in the American League has gone to the same player, a Venezuelan native. Makes me wonder how exciting the MLB postseason would be without Hispanics, especially since the MLB postseason coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month.