September 15 - October 15, 2013
Mes de la Herencia Hispana


Musings on Hispanic Heritage Month 2013

Hispanic, Latino, Latin, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Roman Catholic… These days being “Hispanic” can be very confusing. What is it anyway - a race, an ethnicity, a nationality? But let’s first get something straight – personally I don’t have strong feelings and I’m not betting on any horse. But for the sake of convenience I’m using the word Hispanic here. It can’t be a race because, for example, one can be of African or Caucasian descent and still be Hispanic. It can’t be a nationality, national origin, or ethnicity because people from many countries and tribal groups can be Hispanic. Indeed, some Asians from the Philippines can legitimately claim to be Hispanic.

And although for many centuries Hispanics have been Catholic, millions are Protestant, Jewish, Mormon, Baha’i, Indigenous, and of other faiths. Indeed, people of Spanish nationality have for centuries included people of Jewish descent. In the U.S. this is particularly poignant with the so-called “cryptic” or “hidden” Jews of New Mexico. They descended directly from the Jewish people who were mercilessly driven out of Spain during the decidedly un-Christian Christian “Reconquista” and fled to the New World for safety. Sadly, that injustice stemmed from the Spanish Inquisition of the late 1400’s. Indeed, in the centuries before the Inquisition, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in the most tolerant land in the world for seven centuries – Muslim ruled Spain! At least Hispanics can relieve a small amount of guilt by doing what so many others have done over the centuries – blame the French! The Spanish Inquisition started with a conspiracy of Rome with French knights in Paris. (But Napoleon ended it!)

The term Hispanic can be divisive. I recall being stuck in a conference “Hispanic caucus” with a group of about 60 supposedly educated people spent an entire hour arguing whether to use the term Hispanic. In fact, common U.S. usage of “Hispanic” dates from only 1980 when the U.S. Census adopted it.

Etymology is of little guidance. Hispanic traces to the ancient Latin language and the people of the Iberian peninsula. That may sound harmless but some Hispanics dislike it because it is not their ancestry or because they reject the evils of the conquistadors and old Europe. To add to the confusion, there are Hispanics in New Mexico who dislike the term because it is too close to “Hispanos”, which, in northern New Mexico signifies a claim to direct descent from Spain. Some find that just too close to European racism toward Hispanics who are Mexican or part Indian.

I remember when I was young and dating a pretty young gal who answered her mom’s question as to my background by innocently saying that I was “Mexican”. Her mother, in a response that combined humor, an older generation’s confusion, and just plain ignorance, exclaimed to her daughter “shhh - don’t say that!” Until that day I had never thought of Mexican as the “M” word. We thought of ourselves as “Hippies”, anyway.

Latino has no more of a stellar linguistic origin – obviously stemming from “Latin”. The “Latins” were a tribe in what is now central Italy, pre-dating not only the Roman Empire but even the Roman Republic. Originally, they weren’t even the close Mediterranean cousins that Italians and Spaniards are today. Anthropologists aren’t certain, but the Latins probably migrated to the Italian peninsula from what is now Turkey! I seriously doubt that advocates of “Latino” realize they are rooting for a name that makes them Turks.

There are similar problems with any name one chooses. In fact, it was only a few decades ago that the term “Latin” was primarily used to denote “Latin American”, which was somewhat of a code word for not-Mexican, Caribbean, Indian, or even Central American. It usually signified upper class South American.

Even the term “American” doesn’t escape confusion. I’ve often heard U.S. liberals condemn people in the U.S. for using the term to exclude everyone else. After all, “America” applies to the whole western hemisphere – right? Many “Americans” know that the term came from the name of the Italian mapmaker “Amerigo Vespucci”, whose name appeared on maps of the New World. But many do not realize that the specific term “American” was coined by the English as a term of derision for their English colonists in North America the early 18th century. American really did specifically mean the people in what became the United States of America. For centuries the term did not refer to people in New Spain or what became Canada.

A similar irony arises with the term “Indian”. Many Americans self-righteously correct you for using the term Indian, not realizing that “Native American” is a very recent term invented by guilt-ridden Whites, or that Indians routinely use the term Indian, not finding it offensive. Most American Indians prefer to self-identify with their tribal nation’s name, or as “Indian”. Native American is a just another recent invention imposed on them in a long line of White impositions. Whites somehow think Native American – a term of obvious derived from languages that originated in Europe - is free of White domination. The only thing that one accomplishes by correcting another for using “Indian” is revealing their ignorance of the Indians!

Maybe it is best to see Hispanic as a culture - one shared by millions of people of varying ancestries, nationalities, races, religions and ethnicities. Usually it involves at least some linguistic heritage – some ancestors spoke Spanish or at least lived in a Spanish-speaking land. But there are other traits that cultures share. In a sense, Hispanics culture is well-suited for modern American. As Bill Murray said in his classic speech in the 1980’s comedy film “Stripes” – we’re all mutts! Hispanic is clearly composed of traits from many different lands. As Murray said, most Americans have ancestors kicked out of somewhere. Many came to the New World precisely because they were on the fringes of Old World empires. Of course, Africans were kidnapped and enslaved, and the indigenous were swindled and murdered.

Although I must admit that the cultural ignorance resulting in Cuban food or Country and Western music in a Mexican restaurant drives me crazy, I concede that I can’t tell a Weiner from a Snitzel. So I will just have to live with it all and maybe learn to not take it too seriously.

Author Steve Gonzales is a law professor living in Arizona

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Hispanic Heritage Month - 2013 Theme

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Hispanics: Serving and Leading Our Nation with Pride and Honor

The National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM), announced the 2013 Hispanic Heritage Month theme: “Hispanics: Serving and Leading Our Nation with Pride and Honor.  The theme highlights the important roles and significant contributions Hispanics have made with pride and honor in all sectors of the American society.

NCHEPM members, associates, and partners from various federal agencies and affinity groups, including the general public, selected the theme through a voting process which started in April 2013 with more than 40 theme submissions. 

Verónica Vásquez from the U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in California submitted the winning theme, stating “Hispanics have served our nation as soldiers, educators, field workers, politicians, doctors, [and more] since the U.S. was first declared a nation, and we continue to serve in these roles […] everyday, making a mark on this great nation of ours. It is time to educate our nation on our many accomplishments, our capabilities, and how we do it with pride and honor.”

Ismael Martínez, Chairman of the Council, shared Miss Vásquez’s sentiment. “The theme calls not only for the recognition of the contributions Hispanics have made for our nation, but for the appreciation and respect of the individuals who have unreservedly championed these,” he stated. “It is time for us to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters.” 

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

The Hispanic Heritage observance began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15.  It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402. 

The NCHEPM is a membership-based organization consisting of an executive board, members, associates, and partners from multiple Federal agencies and other organizations from across the United States, advocating for the improvement of Hispanic participation in the Federal Government.

For more information, visit www.nationalcouncilhepm.net


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  1. Musings on Hispanic Heritage Month 2013
    Tuesday, September 17, 2013
  2. Hispanic Heritage Month - 2013 Theme
    Thursday, August 15, 2013