Here we are, smack dab in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15) and I’ve yet to pay my respects to any of my friends who identify as Hispanic. Nor have I done anything significant to further my understanding of Hispanic culture. What’s the big deal? Plenty.
In case you haven’t noticed, I often use this column to explore issues of diversity. Not just race but ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, you name it. I work hard to respect and appreciate all the variations of people on the planet. This is especially so regarding those who are different from me and have historically been targeted with discrimination and systematically marginalized through intentional prejudice and unconscious bias.
Why do I say, “I work hard to respect…,” rather than, “I respect…”? Because I believe actions speak louder than words.
For example, I tell people I love the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team but I haven’t watched a Lakers game in years. I know superstar Kobe Bryant still plays for them but I’m hard pressed to name any of his teammates. I know the Lakers play at the Staples Center but if you ask me to name their coach, fuhgetaboutit.
On the other hand, I’ve been watching the Detroit Tigers all season – on TV and live at Comerica Park. I can name the starters, tell you their positions, wear their swag and have purchased Tigers caps, shirts and hoodies for friends and family. In short, I can legitimately claim I love the Tigers. But this isn’t about sports.
My box score as it relates to acknowledging and supporting National Hispanic Heritage Month this year? Zero, zilch, nada. Nothing. Yeah, I’ve given the matter some thought. Big deal. Actually, it more resembled musings. Like: “I really should do something to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.”
So far, I haven’t gotten much past scarfing down chicken enchiladas at Taqueria San Francisco with the family. Great Mexican meal experience with the wife and kids; poor showing of active respect for Hispanic culture. I guess it’s a start though, supporting an Hispanic owned and operated establishment.
In previous years, I’ve done better. For instance, as communication person for a local grassroots food movement group, I placed supportive advertisements in the Spanish language newspaper Nueva Opinion and other publications, including the Enquirer. Not an insignificant gesture. Still not enough though.
A couple years ago, I devoted this column to an issue related to National Hispanic Heritage Month. It was a perspective piece and required me to research the celebration’s origins and identify largely unheralded accomplishments of persons with an Hispanic identity. Better effort that year.
This year I have yet to distinguish myself as a person who truly regards National Hispanic Heritage Month as anything more than a calendar footnote. And that’s a problem. For me it’s not about tokenism or ticking off an item on my diversity checklist. It’s about truly seeing my fellow humans. That means learning what I can about the various Hispanic cultures and appreciating what it means to live as an Hispanic in the United States. That and creating and maintaining space in my heart for understanding.
It also means acknowledging Hispanic contributions to American culture, recognizing their social issues, and engaging with them in as many ways possible. That includes intentionally striking up conversation with Hispanics about their experience and publicly naming inequities and discrimination when I see it happening.
Matter of fact, I should be actively pursuing these last couple of actions steps on a daily basis and not once a year. Anything less is just window dressing and I know I can do better than that. How about you?
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.