Why Hispanic Heritage Matters

Those of us fortunate enough to be a part of a community that is diverse in its population have been hearing a lot about Hispanic Heritage Month recently. Whether it’s mentioned in a magazine at the supermarket, in a commercial during our favorite TV program, or even on flyers posted around the areas we frequent the most, chances are that many of us have heard about it. Most of us have a basic idea of what it is, but do we know what it actually means? Its origin? Its purpose? Even eliminating these interrogatives, how many of us can actually say that we experience Hispanic Heritage Month? And finally, how many of us can actually say that we care about Hispanic Heritage Month?

As stated by the official website, Hispanic Heritage Week was started by President Lyndon Johnson and was later enacted into law officially as Hispanic Heritage Month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The purpose of the month, annually celebrated from September 15 to October 15, is to recognize and commemorate the contributions of those who descended from ancestors that came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The reason that this time period was chosen to honor those of Hispanic Heritage is that several Latin countries gained their independence on certain days throughout this time period, such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua who celebrate their independence on September 15, as well as Mexico and Chile who celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.

So you may be asking, “I know about Hispanic Heritage Month, but how do I experience Hispanic Heritage Month?” Thankfully, assuming that you are in Dearborn, the area has a solution to the problematic ignorance of Hispanic Heritage Month. The Dearborn Community Arts Council, or the DCAC, and the Padzieski Art Gallery are hosting, “A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage,” a multitude of events including an art exhibit that recognizes the powerful artistic and cultural contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans throughout the month-long celebration. Exhibitions featured in the gallery are by artists Mary Laredo, Vito Valdez, Diana Alva, Nora Chapa Mendoza, Lisa Luevanos, Mary Luevanos, Diego Rivera, Marie Cuello and even the executive director of the DCAC, Juan Valdez. While unfortunately, some of the events hosted by the Gallery and Arts Council have passed, the actual exhibit is open until Friday, October 16. At the exhibit, I was nothing short of astounded by the transcendental art.

At the exhibit, there is a myriad of art in various forms for viewers to appreciate such as watercolor, photography, oil painting, colored ink and even a sculpture made out of shoes. While all of the art was truly and astronomically good, some pieces truly stood out to me as perfect examples of how art can educate someone on the culture of people as well as induce a particular feeling in the viewer. Among these were the “Tour de Mexico with Geronimo” by Maria Cuello. This watercolor piece featured a myriad of symbols representative of Latin culture and geography such as the Virgin of Guadalupe, Oaxaca, the Kakaw or Chocolate Tree, the volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl which are both featured in traditional Mexican folklore, Guadalajara and others, along with a legend that is not unlike one that would be found on a map. Another piece that I would like to draw attention to is the piece by Deanna Smith, entitled “Detroit Cares.” The piece features a photograph of street art, with the word “Care” emphatically placed in the center of the building wall, covered with other words and concepts such as love, church, the Detroit Lions, bringing the troops home, the local police, free speech, providing for my wife and children, and many others that are not listed here. In my interpretation of this piece, I felt that it was a reflection of our community, evoking a sense of concern for most, if not all of these topics. I would even go so far as to say that even the exhibition of this piece of art speaks volumes to the Detroit community as a whole and shows how much we care about each other and everyone that exists in the community, including those of Hispanic and Latino heritage.

In addition to viewing this wonderful collection of art, I was privileged enough to have an interview with the aforementioned executive director of the DCAC, Juan Valdez. Having extensive involvement with the arts and nonprofit organizations, Juan Valdez has done nothing but support and promote artists within the community and the good work that they do, as well as the many creative and cultural groups that the DCAC connects with and assists. Even being described in a 2007 newspaper article as Southeast Michigan’s “Cultural Ambassador,” Juan Valdez’s lengthy resume features his tenure as curator of Cultural Programming at Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum where he was also coordinator for the renowned world music festival, the Concert of Colors.

In the interview, Mr. Valdez and I discussed a wide array of topics, including his long-time fascination with art, stemming from his childhood love of comic books, specifically, Marvel Comics, and his eventual earning of the scholarship that allowed him to go Parsons School of Design in New York City. Speaking on the plight of the younger generation and their disconnect to art, he verbalizes that those of us in the younger generation who don’t really feel a connection to art simply do not see the impact of art on our lives and its subsequent effect on our culture and community.

The biggest takeaway I had from our interview was a result of my mentioning the widely publicized anti-Latino, specifically anti-Mexican, sentiments often featured in the American media. Coming from a place of personal attachment, Valdez’s remarks are something that everyone should focus on. Emphasizing the importance of all art as culture regardless of origin and the prospect of not only entertaining but also educating and bridging people using art, Valdez’s words resonated with me. He also reflected on how art, regardless of whether it is food, music, writing, paintings, sculptures or anything else, makes it possible to tell a story and reach people effectively in a way that a person could not as eloquently as express. Everything from the Concert of Colors, Marvel’s inclusion of many races such as Miss Marvel who became the first Muslim character in the Marvel universe to headline her own story, to art exhibits like the Padzieski gallery’s “Celebration of Hispanic Heritage” empower minorities and provide cohesion and unity in communities where they are usually absent.

So why do things like Hispanic Heritage Month matter? Why even have things like African American History Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month? What benefit does it serve society to have a particular section of time each year where respective minorities become the supposed center of attention? It is to give our focus to groups who are frequently denied the ability to voice their opinions and rights? It is to start a trend of thinking so that eventually we won’t need to dedicate a minuscule fraction of the year to each minority and will instead automatically include them in the grand discussion of humanity while concepts like the Hispanic Heritage Month become obsolete?

While far from ideal, things like Hispanic Heritage Month allow me to be grateful that I live in a community where diversity isn’t just something that I see on TV or read about, but is a constant reality in my daily life. As we focus our attention on Hispanic and Latino Culture during this regrettably short period of time, I implore you to take advantage of every possible opportunity to educate yourself on the culture and not only delegate the time between September 15 and October 15 to cherishing this amazing community and all of its magnificent contributions, but also to celebrate and appreciate Hispanic Heritage every month of every year and draw focus to the ideal that we are a global society.

Share it now!