Hispanic Heritage Month NYC 2022 is a U.S. national celebration of Latin culture and the contributions of Latin peoples to the United States. The celebration from September 15 to October 15 frames the independence days of Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), Mexico and Chile. The Spanish national day is included too. 🇦🇷🇧🇴🇧🇷🇨🇱🇨🇴🇨🇷🇨🇺🇩🇴🇪🇨🇸🇻🇬🇹🇭🇳🇲🇽🇳🇮🇵🇦🇵🇾🇵🇪🇵🇷🇪🇸🇺🇾🇻🇪
Our understanding of Hispanic Heritage Month has changed completely since New York Latin Culture Magazine began ten years ago in 2012.
- Our definition of Hispanic or Latin is much broader.
- We have no respect for colonizers who stole everything, including our identities.
- We cherish the peoples and cultures that developed in the Americas which we now call “Latin.”
What is Hispanic?
Strictly speaking, “Hispanic” refers to the Spanish-speaking descendants of the Spanish Empire (1492-1976). It was the first truly global empire.
Yet the Iberian Peninsula, which is the very tip of Europe, also includes Portugal. Portuguese are not Spaniards, but we are similar. The Portuguese Empire came first (1415-1999). In the Americas, Brazilian culture is very similar, though not technically Hispanic.
We Are Indigenous / Native Americans
At European contact in 1492, the Americas were fully populated with sophisticated Indigenous cultures and trade networks from North to South and from sea to shining sea. In many ways, we were more advanced than the Europeans, but we didn’t have guns. The pattern of human migration since prehistory is that the invading group kills or enslaves the men and forces the women to submit as wives. Most of the early colonizers were men, so right from the beginning, there was a lot of mixing going on (to put it politely).
So Native Americans / First Nations / Indigenous Peoples, while not strictly Hispanic, became part of the mix. This is confusing to many Americans because of our legacy of Colonial English racism (you’re either WASP or a devil), and the genocide of Native Americans during the founding of the United States. South of the U.S. border, Indigenous Peoples are often the main group.
Most Hispanics are an Indigenous and European mix. We cherish our Indigenous heritage. It’s not to diminish our European heritage, but to level up after many lifetimes of being taught that we are somehow less. That’s primitive Colonial thinking. Europeans are more European. Americans are more American. Nobody is better.
Our U.S. education of the 1970s taught us that Indigenous Americans didn’t want to work, so many just gave up and died. Actually, the colonizers worked Indigenous Peoples to death in slave labor camps. Even so, we didn’t just disappear. To avoid responsibility, authorities stopped counting us in their census. We are still here. We’ve always been here. We are the people of the land.
We Are the African Diaspora
Having killed the Indigenous workforce, colonizers began kidnapping, buying, and enslaving Africans to replace it. So the African Diaspora becomes part of the Latin mix. It’s very important because the African Diaspora’s tremendous contribution of labor, talent, and creativity made the colonizers and the United States rich.
Some people say they are “pure” Spanish or Portuguese, but the Iberian Peninsula was already a very mixed place. It’s the tip of Europe, the last stop in the main East to West migration pattern, and only 9 miles from Mother Africa. Migration occurred in both directions across the Strait of Gibraltar.
Colonial Spain was far more integrated than we are led to believe. The first Africans in the Americas came as respected and valued members of the colonizing parties.
Interestingly, the Morris family, one of the great English families in the Americas, has a name that in old English means Moorish. That’s North African. That family once owned Morrisania which we now call the South Bronx. The English Morris Dance folk tradition uses ankle bells, just like many Indigenous and African cultures.
We are far more mixed than we are taught in school.
We Are Asian
We also have an Asian heritage. Indigenous Peoples of the Americas originated in Asia.
After abolition, Chinese workers who built the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad escaped racial violence by moving to the Caribbean, building the railroads there, and blending in. New York’s Chinese-Spanish restaurants were a legacy of Chinese Cubans. Even the Puerto Rican Jíbaro (mountain farmers) have some Asian heritage.
English colonizers brought East Indians to work in the Caribbean. In fact, the biggest group of Trinidadians has an East Indian heritage. There have been major more recent migrations of Chinese and Japanese to Brazil, Peru and other places in the Americas where they are a respected part of our culture.
There is also the Philippines which was the Asian end of the Pacific Spanish galleon route from Acapulco, Mexico. We don’t consider ourselves Latin, but were colonized by Spain for more than 300 years. Some of the best available photos of Spanish lechon (roasted pork) are made in the Philippines.
We Are Arab
Hispanic also has an Arab mix because Islamic Spain was the third great European civilization between the Romans and the Renaissance. It developed a lot of physical science that is the foundation for modern life.
Many Lebanese migrated to the Americas, especially to Brazil and Colombia.
We Are Jewish
Importantly Jewish poets who wrote in Arabic for Spanish sultans recovered the lost knowledge of the “West” from the great Islamic libraries. This rediscovered knowledge triggered the Renaissance. The mix of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Spain is a great mostly untold story. We often fought, but when we worked together, we made history.
Latin America has many Jewish communities too. The main synagogue in Buenos Aires looks a lot like the one on Fifth Avenue.
In fact, the first Jewish people in New York City (1654) were Sephardic, Iberian Jews who were forced out of Spain in 1492. Today, that Sephardic community is Congregation Shearith Israel. New York City’s Jewish community has contributed a lot to who we are as Americans.
We Are Hispanic
The United States is more Hispanic than we are taught in school. The western two-thirds of the United States was Indigenous land first, then New Spain / Mexico. We have the world’s second largest Spanish-speaking population (after Mexico).
Per the Pew Research Center’s analysis of the 2020 U.S. Census, America’s 62.1 million Hispanics are 18.7% of the population and the second-fastest growing demographic. That is certainly an undercount because many of us are taught from childhood to say we are White.
So Hispanic is not only “White” Spaniards. As Hispanic Americans, we carry the heritage of the entire world, and Hispanic culture is a major influence on who we are as Americans of the United States.
The Colonial Era was World War Zero
Stories of the Colonial Era have been completely romanticized. In the Americas, our Hispanic heritage is a legacy of colonial and religious imperialism with all the thievery, abuse, rape, murder and environmental destruction that goes with that.
Europeans stripped Europe of its natural wealth, and started doing the same when they stumbled on the Americas. Today’s climate trouble shows the limits of reckless exploitation. Indigenous Peoples live in a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the land. Colonizers steal everything they can. They don’t care if they poison the well. But destroying Mother Earth, the only place we have to live, is not very smart.
One of the greatest evils of the Colonial Era was the complete negation of all non-colonizer identities. A small number of colonizers used guns and extreme violence to control large numbers of people. If you weren’t one of the colonizers, you could be abused in any and every way.
We were forced to pretend to be European. Any display of our own cultural heritage could draw beatings or worse. We were forced to adopt the colonizer’s culture, but many things survived in secret at home, or hidden inside the colonizer’s culture.
The Colonial American cultural narrative was that anything not English was the devil’s work. Colonizers demonized everything about Indigenous, African and Asian culture. That nonsense still devils us today.
Colonizers stole everything, including our identities. Today we are discarding the Colonial narrative and recovering who we are, who we really are.
The Best Thing Hispanic Colonizers Did
Even though the Colonial Era did a lot of harm, it also did some good. It created the many and diverse peoples and cultures of the Americas.
The Hispanic Catholic church allowed interracial marriage. That led to the creation of us, the Latin peoples of the Americas.
Today young Americans call Hispanic Heritage Month – “Latinx Heritage Month.” Instead of celebrating the colonizers, we’d rather celebrate ourselves.
We are the story. We are not any different from other Americans. We just have this incredible heritage. We have made immeasurable contributions to the development and culture of the United States. As Hispanic Americans, we have a lot to be proud of.
That’s why we say that every day is Hispanic Heritage Month at New York Latin Culture Magazine. We also cover the culture of Indigenous Peoples, Latin Europe and Mother Africa because we are all of that.
The takeaway is that in the Americas, Hispanic or Latin isn’t any one thing. We are many things and proud of all of it.
Things to do in NYC during Hispanic Heritage Month starts here.