Gov. McCroy recently declared that from September 15 to October 15, North Carolina would join with the rest of the country in celebrating the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our state and our nation; this is to be accomplished by recognizing the month as Hispanic Heritage month. Even so, this month remains widely under-recognized, other than on college campuses, and many would say that such cultural celebrations are unnecessary in our multicultural world. However, I believe that in our current America these cultural celebrations matter greatly because they help us appreciate the Hispanic story in the greater American narrative.
Hispanic Heritage Month grew out of Hispanic Heritage Week, which was established by Lyndon Johnson in 1968 as a way to honor those of Hispanic heritage. Hispanic Heritage Month has been slowly gaining recognition since its first observance in 1988, when Ronald Reagan extended this week to a month. Today, Hispanic Heritage Month is becoming more widely acknowledged and celebrated across the country. The dates for the celebration of the month were chosen because many Latin American countries celebrate their independence during these 30 days. Likewise, October 12 is El Día de la Raza (The Day of the Race), which is celebrated in the United States as “Columbus Day.” Throughout Spain and Latin America, “El Día de la Raza” celebrates the culture, heritage, and history of people of Spanish origin.
Latinos make up 17% of the national population and in North Carolina they make up 9% of the population. In spite of the fact that Latinos comprise a large portion of the US population, their history goes largely unnoticed. Pausing to stop and recognize Hispanic heritage matters now more than ever because it drowns out the cries of xenophobia that we hear as immigration continues to tear apart our communities. The “American” legitimacy of certain groups of people is questioned when we put their immigration status before their status as a brother and sister in Christ, and our unity as a Christian community is at risk. Having a time when we can celebrate Hispanic contributions to our shared American history is one way of bridging the gaps in our theology of citizenship in Christ. Just as Paul preached that we are all one in Christ Jesus, Hispanic Heritage Month and similar cultural celebrations sustain our country’s claim to being exceptional, because such demonstrations offer proof that while made up of many and diverse peoples, we stand together as one.