OPINION: Beyond celebrating: honoring and fighting for Latinx people during Latinx Heritage Month

By Yuri Hern​ández Osorio | September 20, 2020 9:58pm

Yuri Hernández Osorio is the coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion Programs. Photo courtesy of Yuri Hernández Osorio.

September 15 officially kicked off Latinx Heritage Month. Its origins stem when President Lyndon Johnson made the observation official in 1968; it was later expanded by President Ronald Regan in the 80’s. This month-long celebration typically honors the cultures and contributions of people from and/or descendents of Latin America. 

I purposely use Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) instead of “Hispanic Heritage Month” to honor and acknowledge people from and descendants of Latin America that are gender-non-binary. In a very gendered language like Spanish—heavy on the female and male binary (ella/el)—Latinx is used to honor and affirm gender-non-binary people. So, although I identify as Latina—more specifically, a Mexicana, I intentionally use Latinx when speaking broadly about the Latinx culture or people so that I am inclusive of people’s identities and I avoid making the assumption that everyone fits into a male or female binary. 

That aside, I want to focus on this year’s Latinx Heritage Month 2020. Personally as a Mexicana, I find it very hard to celebrate this year and I will tell you why. 

The day before the kickoff to Latinx Heritage Month, the story broke about I.C.E (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) performing forced sterilization on immigrant detainees through hysterectomy procedures. The whistleblower was Dawn Wooten, an on-and-off nurse at an ICE detention center in Georgia. I cannot overstate the atrocity this is and people everywhere should be outraged. It is not hard to believe that an organization like ICE that holds children in cages is now performing forced sterilizations.

Before the news of the sterilizations hit, the West Coast has been experiencing mass wild forest fires. The impact is still unknown but what is known thus far is it is impacting Black and Brown communities harder than their white counterparts.

Prior to the fires, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was once again attacked and USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) ignored the Supreme Court ruling (which allowed initial DACA request, advanced parole, and 2-year renewals) to reinstate DACA in its full capacity. USCIS is now rejecting initial DACA requests and only issuing only 1-year permits for DACA renewals—another huge hit to DACAmented people. The majority of the DACA population is Latinx.

Pulling the layers back even further before the most recent attack on DACA, COVID-19 has impacted the Black and Brown community at an alarming rate, not shocking news to us as members of these communities (because we know very well that racism and inequalities exist in healthcare, access to healthcare, and much more). We are dying at alarming rates compared to our white peers.

Taking a bigger step back from COVID-19, the racism and police brutalities we are seeing play out (taking the lives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Abery, and far too many more of the recent lives taken by the police) is most definitely impacting the Latinx community, a community made up of a spectrum of people including Afro-Latinos (African/Black and people of Latin American descent).

My heart weighs heavy. I am not in a celebratory mood. I do NOT feel I am celebrated nor do I feel that the contributions of my people are honored in the United States. Not during this Latinx Heritage Month and not for a long time. The time for change is now. I am tired of seeing headlines of trauma and racism of Black and Brown communities. I am tired of feeling othered in a country I know my ancestors gave their blood and sweat to. 

So today, I propose a new way of looking at Latinx Heritage Month at least for this year. Do not honor us through campaign ads, lip-service “we care about you” statements, targeted market products like Nike shoes, clothing lines, restaurant specials, etc. Honor us by making a commitment to stand up for our rights, our humanity and our liberation. Honor us by vowing to combat racism in the United States. Honor us by giving us thanks for the countless contributions we have made but mostly the contributions we are making EVERYDAY. 

I know this piece is heavy and for my own sanity, I want to believe that the future is what we make it. So, I leave you with this…. As the world around us is literally in flames, I want to give thanks to my people out in the fields; the beautiful brown people, picking fruit, veggies, harvesting wine, and doing all this to make sure we have food and drinks on the table. Despite working in the extreme hazardous conditions of not just COVID-19 but the fumes of the fires as well. Thank you farm workers, because without you, I would not have food, thank you for all your contributions, and I promise to fight for your liberation—to increase your pay and fight for better working conditions for you.

Thank you Latinx doctors, nurses, and healthcare frontline workers for showing up every day and putting your bodies on the line to literally save us. Your dedication and work inspire me. 

Thank you Latinx daycare provides, teachers, and any educators who are caring for the children, teaching them, and keeping them safe. You are literally helping our future. I promise, to fight for your liberation, so that you get a much-needed pay raise/wage increase.

Thank you Latinx wild-fire fighters, for fighting through flames to ensure our safety and for protecting mother nature. I promise to do my part to combat global warming so that you do not have to endure a fire season like this again.

Yuri's mother, works with her sewing machine. Photo courtesy of Yuri Hernández Osorio.

Lastly, I want to end with sharing out the guerrera y guerrero (warriors) in my life. The people that taught me to always be proud of where I come from and to not get stuck in the negative but to look towards a better future—my mom and my dad. My mom has run her licensed and accredited day care for over 13 years providing bilingual care for children and the only Latina in this space within Coos County for the majority of those 13 years! Not sure how, but in her little spare time she makes masks to sell to make up for the financial impact COVID has taken on her small business.

Yuri's father, center, is a firefighter and has been fighting the recent wildfires in both California and Oregon. Photo courtesy of Yuri Hernández Osorio.

When he is not doing his day job, my dad is a wild-fire fighter (over 10 years of experience) and is currently coming off fighting the fires in California to return to Oregon to combat the fires here. I never once hear him complain and at his age still grins about how he can run laps around the young guys that are new to firefighting. To everyone I listed here and to those I failed to mention, you are Latinx Heritage Month. Gracias. 

Yuri Hernández Osorio is the coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion Programs. She can be reached at hernandy@up.edu.

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