Memory as an Act of Defiance: Latinx Pride All Year Long

“Identity is our way of reminding ourselves that we are beautiful in a society that doesn’t validate us or often makes us feel as if we don’t belong.”

By Irene Sanchez

Note: A previous version of this article was originally published on Sept. 19, 2016 and republished on Sept. 27, 2017.

While in grad school in 2015, I was asked to lead a University workshop on identity to help unite a diverse group of Latinx student organizations. This, I knew, would be no easy task, particularly in one-hour’s time.

From my research and reading, I knew that any useful discussion on the topic meant finding common ground, and so I borrowed a question from my research and asked the students to share two things: what do they identify as, and why?

It’s the why that is key.

Recognizing its contradictions, I personally use the term “Latinx” broadly because it articulates solidarity. In other words, my own “why” was the desire to recognize language, culture, and nationality, and to honor family and ancestors. Identity is historical memory, and memory is a process of understanding (or attempting to understand) our personal experiences and our lives in a society where they are often dehumanized and marginalized.

Identity is our way of reminding ourselves that we are beautiful in a society that doesn’t validate us or often makes us feel as if we don’t belong.

But the question that remains is, do we really need institutions or the powers that be to validate who we are? I say no, but I know it’s easier said than done and powers that be often dictate resources and real concrete things communities need. Our stories then by us and told by us is even more important.

I have learned that events like Hispanic Heritage Month, however well intentioned, can also do more harm than good if stereotypes are reinforced and we still aren’t allowed to share our communities stories, not just the struggle, but to celebrate the essence of who we are. This is why it’s important to know the history of how events like Hispanic Heritage Month came to be and who was behind them.

Hispanic Heritage Month begins mid-September to acknowledge Latinx people in the U.S. The month begins mid month to celebrate the independence of several countries in Central America and Mexico.

As I used to walk the halls of colleges and schools in times that have passed, I would often see fliers where clip art of maracas and sombreros announce events with free “ethnic food.”

This was probably not what Congressperson Edward R. Roybal, D-Los Angeles, intended when he authored legislation that would become the foundation of Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968. Roybal was a pro-labor Mexican politician who was the only Los Angeles city council member in 1960 to vote against a measure requiring “communists and other subversives” to register with the police.

That same year, he helped to organize the Mexican American Political Association and also demanded an apology from LAPD Police Chief William Parker for saying Latino people in East L.A. were “not too far removed from the wild tribes of the inner mountains of Mexico. I don’t think you can throw the genes out of the question when you discuss the behavior patterns of people.”

Later Congressperson Esteban E. Torres, D-Pico Rivera, proposed a bill to expand Hispanic Heritage week to a month. According to, Torres was born in a mining camp in Arizona in 1930. His father was deported when he was five and he never saw him again. He was raised by his mother and grandmother in East L.A.

In an interview, he recognized the strong role his mother and grandmother played in raising him to have a sense of cultural pride. “My mother and my grandmother were very strong women, very educated and very proud to be Mexicans.”

Torres began his life in politics through his local branch of the United Auto Workers, and was later elected to the union’s leadership. Torres also founded the East Los Angeles Community Union and was involved with the Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center. When he was elected to office he proposed a bill in 1987 to expand Hispanic Heritage Week to a month, but his bill died in committee.

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill authored by Illinois Senator Paul Simon, a Democrat, creating “Hispanic” Heritage Month, as we now know it. It’s important to understand Reagan’s endorsement in the context of his involvement in genocidal wars in Central America, and his support for “Papa Bush” to succeed him as president in elections that year.

The importance of our lives and all our complexities cannot and will not be contained to just one month out of the year where we are “allowed” to celebrate who we are. We must celebrate who we are every day as well as remind ourselves, and each other, of our brilliance, but I wish to do so centering our diverse stories/histories. There can no longer be something about us unless it is by us and fully acknowledging and celebrating our culture, not just “tolerating”.

We must know our past so that we can better understand our present, and fight for a better tomorrow for our children. Being a mother of two now, I chose to fight for our beauty and brilliance.

As a Xicana who also considers herself an educator of Race and Ethnic Studies, the word “Hispanic” has always been complicated to me because the roots of it are within this context of a Reagan administration defining us in an effort to prevent us from defining ourselves. The Chicano movement of the 1960s fought for self determination and so I think it’s ironic to fight to identify oneself, but then seek to define others. Although there is much diversity in our communities, I still believe we can find commonalities and when we can’t, it doesn’t mean we can’t stand in solidarity with those who define themselves differently.

I am reminded of the struggle I come from, the same struggle that many before us have fought so that I could have more opportunities than those who came before. When I see my children, my sons, as well as my students, I am reminded everyday that it is my responsibility to fight for social justice for those who will come next.

What do you proclaim this month? What do you call yourself and how will you celebrate you and all you are today and everyday?

We don’t need permission from institutions or anyone to celebrate who we are or validate our lives and our identity so in closing, I remember what Eduardo Galeano once said, “It’s a system of power that is always deciding in the name of humanity who deserves to be remembered and who deserves to be forgotten … We are much more than we are told. We are much more beautiful.”

No matter who has told you different or made you feel as if you didn’t belong for who you are, this Latinx Heritage Month please remember you are beautiful. Your culture and history is worthy of remembering. You are valued by your family and community (however it is defined) for simply being.

Celebrate it everyday.

Note: A previous version of this article was originally published on Sept. 19, 2016 and republished on Sept. 27, 2017.

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