Hispanic Heritage Month pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society. It has been celebrated in the United States since 1968 and has grown from a two-week celebration into a month long one. Today, organizations and individuals across the country have formed decade-long traditions to celebrate Latinx culture.
To me, celebrating my culture is an act of resistance. Amid today’s political turmoil, it may seem easy to feel disillusioned and defeated. With the decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the pardoning of Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona who racially profiled Latinos and cuts to Latino health initiatives, my community seems to be under attack from every angle. But these offenses only motivate me to be more visible.
Now more than ever we need to celebrate our community. We need to elevate our culture. We need to demonstrate we belong here. We need to develop our own narratives and share them with the world. Arts and advocacy have always served as channels to communicate culture. We should use these channels to draw strength, promote hope, inspire aspiration as a community and mobilize against forces that are damaging the core of our communities.
We can kick off the celebration by supporting the work of leaders in our community. We can learn from Labor leaders with films like Dolores, the documentary that celebrates Dolores Huerta’s work for more than six decades as a community activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America. I ran into her recently at a Hispanic Heritage Month event and, at 87, she’s still inspiring people from all walks of life. She is an energizing force for everyone and her story demonstrates the power of organizing, resisting and fighting against adversity.
Despite the political turmoil, our community continues to not only survive but also thrive. Latinxs contribute to the cultural fabric of this country. We are an integral part of the economy and culture. Almost one fifth of the total U.S. population is Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Center. At a population of 57 million, we are the second-fastest growing racial or ethnic group behind Asian Americans. By 2020, researchers estimate that Latinos will contribute nearly a quarter of all U.S. GDP growth and account for 12.7 percent of the country’s total GDP, an increase from 11.8 percent in 2015.
Voting is a celebration of our democracy – but it’s also an act of resistance. The work I do with the New Americans Campaign — to motivate and help legal permanent residents apply for citizenship – is about giving new Americans a voice in our democratic process. National Voter Registration Day was on September 26 and happens to fall during Hispanic Heritage Month. We should take this opportunity to encourage everyone to register to vote to ensure our voices are heard, loud and clear.
Perhaps most importantly, the political power of Latinxs is a growing force. Hispanics who turn 18 are the primary source of new eligible voters as some 803,000 young Hispanic citizens enter adulthood each year. We have the opportunity to elect bold leaders who will resist and push policies that protect and lift up our communities. We have the power to ensure progressive politicians have a strong voice in Congress.
Amongst all of these dark clouds is a silver lining: the resilience, strength and heart of our people. I hope you will join me in celebrating our political power and demonstrating we are an unshakeable force – and we’re not going anywhere. Our diversity as a nation is what makes us special, and I’m proud to celebrate my community’s contributions to our unique and vibrant country.