Latino history honored

Hispanic Heritage Month, which started Sept. 15, is meant to recognize and commemorate the achievements of Latinos throughout the nation’s history.

You may see the typical articles about things like avocados in ethnic food, and colorful local festivals celebrating the month. This is not all that Hispanic Heritage Month is about, however.

Congress first created Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and then extended it to a month in 1988.

But in this growing atmosphere of xenophobia and anti-Latino sentiment in the United States, how can Latinos really believe their culture and contributions are valued? Many of us are told to assimilate and become like everyone else, and to throw aside those things that make us unique.

Samuel Huntington, chairman of the Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies, and author of “Who Are We?” considers Latinos a threat to the nation. In fact, he has written that “the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America’s traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico.”

One newspaper reader earlier this year wrote us the following: “I would like to see every single Hispanic person who is stopped by the police for a traffic infraction, required to produce legal green card or citizenship papers or be immediately deported. Any child whose parents cannot show legal resident to be kicked out of school.”

Has anti-Latino hysteria reached the point where we are no longer deserving of the basic rights every other citizen is granted?

Fortunately, this is an election year, and politicians have to take Latinos seriously, since the number of eligible Latino voters is about 16 million.

Bush and Kerry are both releasing million-dollar Spanish ad campaigns, and both are making immigration the foundation of their Latino promotion. But immigration is not our central issue. A July 22 poll by the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that immigration was way down the list of Latino concerns, far behind their top concerns of education, the economy and health care.

While we applaud attention to Latino contributions to this nation, Hispanic Heritage Month is not enough. It’s mere symbolism unless we’re able to win equal economic, political and educational opportunities for all.

Latino accomplishments and contributions – often in the face of prejudice and discrimination – ought to be acknowledged year round.

The struggle for equality and justice will continue even when the celebrations are over.