This Hispanic Heritage Month, let's look past the kitsch and have a meaningful discussion
CHICAGO -- This past weekend I saw a few cars flying Mexican flags.
My first reaction was fear -- I live in an area where you're as likely to see a "Si se puede" sticker on a car as you are a Confederate flag or a "Make America Great Again" yard sign. Naturally, I was concerned that whatever brave soul dared to conspicuously celebrate Mexican Independence Day was courting danger.
I honked to offer moral support. And I recalled that just the other day I said to my class of Hispanic students -- in the most deadpan voice I could muster -- "Soon it'll be Hispanic Heritage Month. Yay."
This is arguably the worst month of the year.
Not because there isn't beauty and pride to be found in the spotlighting of folkloric dances and music, traditional cooking and the works of artists of Latin American descent. But because (like everything else these days) it is so fraught with symbolism and politics that it has become a designated period of grievance-airing.
It used to be that the "celebration" would inspire mere political pandering and insane product marketers adding a taco, pinata or mariachi hat to packaging in order to feign relevance to the Latino community.
Over the past couple of years some have renamed Hispanic Heritage Month to "Latinx Heritage Month" -- because the term "Hispanic" is, to them, passe and "Latino" is not gender inclusive enough.
Others put down the whole thing as illegitimate. Political observer Adriana Maestas recently wrote: "People of Mexican, Central American and South American descent shouldn't have to celebrate heritage that is tied to invaders and colonizers."
This rolls straight into bitter arguments, impassioned pleas and (hopefully nonviolent) protests sparked by those who believe Columbus Day should be renamed "Indigenous Peoples Day."
This is all topped off by a whole October's worth of manufacturers and retailers taking the looks and styles of the religious Day of the Dead traditions practiced across Latin America and selling them as cheap Halloween decorations and costumes.