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Highlighting Mexican-Americans in Celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month

Photo by: Ronaldo Bolaños 

Hispanic Heritage Month is relatively new to the 21st century. On Sept. 17, 1968, Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the National Hispanic Heritage Week Bill into law to praise the contributions Hispanics had provided and sacrificed for the United States. 

Representative Esteban Torres of California 19 years later, introduced the idea to make this celebration a month-long to honor our legacy and tributes. Torres wished for all of the United States to learn the Hispanic heritage and to be more inclusive when addressing the nation’s growth both economically and historically. The treatment that the Hispanic population had to undergo throughout times was inhumane and xenophobic; constant slurs and phrases such as, “go back to your country!” were detrimental to their mental health and made Hispanics feel unwelcomed. Despite the pain they endured in the United States, they were willing to contribute their work ethic in the workforce. 

Unfortunately, Torres’s bill was denied in committee, but this was a chance for another opportunity for someone else to take action. 

Paul Simon, Senator of Illinois, sent a bill that was similar to Torres’s idea of making Hispanic Heritage Week a full month. At last, the Senate passed the bill to Congress and President Ronald Reagan signed Simon’s bill into law in 1988. 

This was a victory to all my fellow Hispanic and Latino peers who wished for the acknowledgment of our successes and traditions both in America and in our homeland. Having a month dedicated to my people is an opportunity for the nation to research and learn more about our culture. I’m proud that we are given time to be thanked for our contributions and for our ancestors who risked everything when immigrating to the United States and/or fighting for our rights. 

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated by Americans to understand the history, culture, and contributions of the Latino/Hispanic population. This yearly celebration should be a time to support local businesses and put any effort into learning about Hispanic struggles and accomplishments throughout history. 

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I will be highlighting the lively culture of Mexico and Mexican-Americans, and noting two important Hispanic/Hispanic-American figures who left an imprint on society and a crucial civil rights movement that we often overlook.  

Mexico’s culture is vividly vibrant and varies from food, music, people, and traditions. On Sept. 16, there is a tradition that the Mexican government puts on every year. “El grito” (literally means, “the scream”) happens the night before Mexican Independence Day to honor those who fought during the revolution. The president yells out the names of the leaders, and the millions of Mexicans both in their homes or outside the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City, yell, “VIVA!” after every line. 

 Moving on to important Mexican-American figures, Cesar Chavez was a Mexican-American activist who advocated for migrant and farmworkers. He was the voice of people of Mexican descent and led The Chicano Movement, the least studied civil rights movement of the 1960s possibly due to the lack of exposure in the media and in conversation. Mexican-Americans in the states were severely poor, were not offered respect, and were seen as low-class citizens or non-citizens to the white man. Chavez led the Chicano Movement during the 1960s, which fought for civil equality sought to empower Mexicans 

The word “Chicano” originally used as a racial slur against Mexican-Americans was later reclaimed by activists who used the term with pride. This term is now used widely by Latinos and people now proudly identify themselves as Chicano/a.

Also, Chavez organized a Grape Boycott where agricultural labor workers would cease purchases and protest the prejudice and exploitation of farmworkers. Mexican Americans had to live in poverty and poor working conditions because of the lack of empathy grape growers had for them and other agricultural businesses. 

Although Mexican Americans were born in the states or had family generations of U.S. citizens, they were still unwelcomed and alienated from society. These endless acts of discrimination and reckless racism were the ignitions for all Latinos to protest and lead demonstrations.

Selena Quintanilla; beautiful, talented, and pure-hearted. Known as “Selena” to the public, she was born in Lake Jackson, Texas located right outside of Houston, Texas. She participated in a band called “Selena y Los Dinos,” with her siblings and moved to Corpus Christi where the group became more well-known. The group took every opportunity to perform at weddings, local clubs, and dancehalls so they could make it big in the entertainment business. After many trials, Selena Quintanilla was recognized and scouted at a local nightclub because of her astonishing, show-stopping voice along with the rest of the band.

She grew up learning English, so she had no solid foundation on how to communicate in Spanish fluently. Her father taught her the language since she often got backlash and comments on her Spanish accent, but she worked endlessly to showcase to the world what she has to offer, which at the end of the day, paid off. 

 “Como la Flor” was Selena’s biggest hit, winning several awards including Overall, she was nominated for 90 awards and won 68 for her music. Selena was the definition of self-made. She did her own makeup, designed her clothes, and worked with her group to write lyrics for their top hits.

Selena continues to be known as the Michael Jackson of Tejano music and is named the “Queen of Tejano.” She has sold over 60 million records worldwide and counting to this day. Unfortunately, before she could see 24, she was killed by a gunshot from Yolanda Saldivar, the president of her fan club after arguing over financial issues. 

Personally, Selena Quintanilla gave me hope for learning Spanish more fluently. As a Mexican-American citizen from two immigrant parents, I grew up solely learning English in my household due to personal reasons and for the sake of living in the U.S... I was hesitant to speak my mother’s tongue because I was afraid that I would be butchering the language unknowingly. Selena’s passion drove her to learn Spanish which ultimately ended up helping her become one of the top singers of all time. Because of her success story, I believe I can also accomplish my goal of becoming more fluent in my own passion of being an immigration lawyer.

So, when you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, don’t think of it as a chore or just any other celebration. Go out and eat at local Hispanic and Latino/e/x businesses and ask questions about our culture. Don’t forget to listen to Selena and pick up a book on The Chicano Movement; honor those who impacted both countries and set the standards for civil rights and music. Viva la Raza!

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