Hispanic Heritage Month has come to an end, but many Latino leaders agree the 30 days between mid-September and mid-October were demanding, and maybe not as impactful as they’d like.
The intent of the celebration is to highlight and honor the incredible legacy of Hispanics living in the United States in all disciplines.
With that, it’s hard to argue. Still, many in the community agree that year after year, the effort to take advantage of the occasion with the media and government during these 30 days is strenuous for organizations and individuals who work hard every day of the year to attract attention.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is exhausting,” said Selina Pagan, executive director of the Young Latino Network. “Institutions act like we aren’t here all year round. It should be a time for us to celebrate and take a break, but it seems like everyone is over exhausted from trying to do the most. That’s not how I want to celebrate this month.”
Throughout this celebratory month, some Latino leaders said they grow tired of having to repeatedly note and explain the politically correct words to describe their community. Moreover, one term doesn’t fit all, and there is no single community leader or organization that fully captures the spectrum of ethnicities.
“The ways in which the city’s Latinos/as/xs describe their identity varies widely across geographies, generations, lineages, and much more,” said Robert Duarte, president of the Young Latino Network and a program manager at JumpStart, Inc.
“Yet our community is often referred to by a single term that implies it is a monolithic group. That masks much of the diversity that characterizes our community.”
It would help, Duarte said, if non-Latinos did their part.
“Instead of ongoing debates about which term is better or even if the right Latinx/oa/ leader is in town to represent all of us, I invite allies/non-Latinx leaders in Cleveland to show up and meet us where we are,” she said. “It is exhausting to build a case study every time we need help, support, and/or funds.”
A recurrent theme among Latinos during Hispanic Heritage Month is how fatiguing it can be for non-profit organizations to underscore the enormous economic and cultural power of the Hispanic community, all within a span of 30 days.
Hispanic Heritage Month “is mentally draining and very expensive for organizations celebrating this month,” says Mariely Luengo, board president of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center. “And it’s because we know that the second the spotlight is not on us, we will have to wait another year.”
Luengo said her organization ran three separate cultural events during Hispanic Heritage Month this year. She explained that while the month represents an excellent opportunity to showcase the Latinx community, it could hold even greater potential.
“[W]e must use that power to hold [people in leadership positions] accountable for the things that are wrong and that should expire,” she said, noting that Hispanic heritage must be considered at all times, “when you are going to make policies and when you are going to make economic decisions and when you are going to vote in the school board or when you are going to think about the community.”
Some changes in this regard are already afoot. Leaders such as Pagan, Luengo, and Duarte, along with untold anonymous others, are fighting every day for visibility and fostering important conversations to help make a difference.
One example: On Wednesday, Oct. 6, a consortium that included Hispanic Star Cleveland, JumpStart, AmMore Consulting, and the Cleveland Cavaliers gathered for the first time at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to network and honor members of the Latinx community in an event called “100+ Latinos CLE Must Know.”
During the event, Kevin Clayton, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement with the Cavaliers, signed “The Hispanic Promise.” The first document of its kind, the promise is an initiative by Hispanic Star Cleveland urging companies to “demonstrate their continued commitment to the Hispanic community.”
On the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month this year, October 15, something seemed different. At the annual gala hosted by the City of Cleveland at City Hall, a large percentage of the guest-list consisted of people who’d never been invited to such an event before, despite their many years of work and contributions to the cause of supporting the Latino community. Many belonged to the ranks of the “100+ Latinos CLE Must Know.”
According to Marcia Moreno, president of AmMore Consulting, it was a literal example of creating what is commonly called “a place at the table,” of fostering opportunity and engendering long-term change.
“We need intentionality and strategies to ensure that Latinos are represented, included, seen and valued beyond one month a year,” she said.
Claudia Longo is a bilingual freelance writer, translator and social media coordinator who lives in Cleveland with her husband and two children.