Latinx Heritage Month is a reminder of invisibility
September 15 to October 15 is Latinx Heritage Month, a time when the 33 countries of Latin America are celebrated for their rich culture and contributions to society. However, the pan-ethnic term “Latinx” often did not serve its purpose. “Latinx” did not properly capture the diversity of Latin America because the scope of Latinx representation has been far too narrow in our media.
In a study conducted by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, researchers analyzed 200 Hollywood movies between 2017 and 2018 to understand how Latinxes were portrayed onscreen. They found that Latinxes were generally portrayed without much association with their ethnicity. This means that they have been portrayed as they are, with no explanation or visual representation of their cultural origin. Additionally, more than half of Latinx characters have been described as being involved in illegal activity, further reinforcing damaging stereotypes attached to the Latinx community.
Latinx representation does not do enough to advance our culture when the representation does not go beyond the larger Latinx label. I’m Latino, but beyond that, I’m also from Honduras, a country in Central America. When films and other forms of media do not accurately portray the specific culture of a Latinx country, they therefore promote the erasure and false appearance of Latinidad as a monolith.
This is reflected in the conversations I have with non-Latin and Latin people. It is very rare for me to meet someone who knows the location of Honduras, let alone our cultural practices. Many Latinxes from countries in South America and other parts of Central America are also experiencing this.
Eliseo Martinez sells fruit on the corner of Hoover and 32nd Street, right across from USC Village. He is originally from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, which has deep indigenous roots. However, the traditions of this southwestern Mexican state are often overlooked.
Martinez said that in order to solve this problem, we can highlight the traditions of Oaxaca, such as teaching others about the different indigenous languages spoken in the state and the typical dishes of the people of Oaxaca.
Replicating this idea with different Latinx countries is not a far-fetched idea. In fact, this month is the perfect opportunity to do so. According to USC, approximately 15% of the student body is “Hispanic / Latinx” as of fall 2020. We may come together to highlight our ethnic origins to broaden the scope of the term.
“There shouldn’t be a difference because we’re all Latinos,” Martinez said in Spanish. “We come from different countries, but we must always be united. ”
In speaking to other Latinxes on this topic, there seemed to be a recurring desire for unity but also a desire for differentiation. Lorena Huerta, a Mexican woman who lives in my neighborhood, said that Latinx is interchangeable with her country of origin, but she thinks we should always be specific when talking about a Latinx person. For example, instead of saying “the Latinx person,” we should refer to the person by their country of origin.
Fidel Carrillo, works for his father carnicerie inside the Lee Liquor Store on 23rd Street. Carrillo is from Mexico City and this month he noticed a great lack of celebration for a very special date.
September 16 was Mexico’s Independence Day and although the holiday received a lot of media attention, Carrillo said Salvador’s Independence Day, which falls the day before, has been largely ignored. Carrillo said this was the result of media platforms focusing on the best-known countries or making them more money.
For Carrillo, journalists are part of the problem because we are not using our position to promote the cultures of the smaller or “unknown” Latinx countries. This is a call to my fellow journalists to be more aware of how they portray Latinxes in articles. We need to be aware of the small ways in which we can help continue to diversify the Latinx label to make not only ourselves, but also others more culturally aware and inclusive of Latinx people.
The University can play a big role in advancing this movement. For example, when taking into account the makeup of the student body, it would be more beneficial to collect statistics that separate the Latinx population by ethnicity. As a result, Latinx organizations on campus can better understand how they can improve the way they serve the Latinx student body.
It’s Latinx Heritage Month, but other than the banners along Trousdale Parkway, the University has done very little to promote Latinidad and get students to participate in the festivities. Although we are going through a pandemic, USC may consider opening the campus to Latinx food vendors. Students would then be able to see the spectrum of Latinx culture through our food. It is important to observe culture, but to taste and feel it physically goes beyond the limits of language.
It’s a lackluster month of celebration for many Latinxes like me who feel their country is under-represented in the media. It is a month where we are reminded that we are invisible. We can change that through more intentional portrayal – not just this month, but every month.