Shaping the Hispanic Debate

Mainstream America needs to be reminded of the roots the Latino culture has historically had in the country

By Marisa Trevi??o
Published on LatinoLA: October 3, 2007

Shaping the Hispanic Debate

In 2006, the Anti-Defamation League documented an increasing rise of attacks against Hispanics by extremist groups. The report, Extremist Declare open Season on Immigrants: Hispanics Target of Incitement and Violence, found that white supremacists and other racist groups were taking advantage of the political debate regarding immigration and border security to vent campaign of hate and intolerance against Hispanics regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

The campaign includes daily rhetoric of encouragement to fight back against the perceived invasion of Hispanics in the United States. It has taken the form of blog posts to call-ins on daily talk radio shows to even mainstream media tapping the leaders of such extremist organizations as experts for articles.

The most repulsive illustration of this campaign's existence is the online games created where exaggerated Hispanic stereotypes are used to poke fun and encourage violence against Latinos.

For example, one game called "Border Patrol" involves shooting Mexican caricatures as they try to cross the border into the United States. The player wins when 88 kills have been made.

Further backlash directed against undocumented Hispanic immigrants, but which has impacted the Latino community as a whole, are coming from the actions of overzealous city councils and law enforcement agencies intent on weeding out undocumented immigrants from their communities, and federal immigration officials conducting sweep raids at work sites where a brown face or speaking with an accent are enough to reserve a spot on a plane flying south of the border.

Because of this backlash, Hispanic organizations, from college campuses to community groups, have decided that this year's Hispanic Heritage Month festivities must be different.

As a result, there is a developing consensus found in some Hispanic communities that it's time to counter this anti-Hispanic sentiment and heighten awareness in mainstream America of not how Latinos celebrate the culture, but how we've contributed to this country.

The Hispanic community has never been very good at promoting ourselves but if there is one time during the year that is being handed to Latinos on a silver platter to make the most of who we are, what we've done and the importance of the Latino presence in the history and future of this country, it's during the government-sanctioned month honoring our heritage.

In New Mexico, state leaders held a news conference earlier this month announcing the unique statewide creation of a Hispanic Heritage Month Committee.

Thirty-nine local, state and national Hispanic organizations are to tool their resources to better promote and raise awareness of the educational and cultural events and programs throughout the state.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, several groups have joined together, ranging from the Hispanic Chamber Cincinnati USA to a local nonprofit called Bridges for a Just Community, to specifically create a campaign to counter the bad press targeting the city's Hispanics.

The campaign consists of public service announcements and events ranging from a Town Hall meeting to a career fair to cultural presentations.

At college campuses, Latino students are making renewed efforts to educate their peers as well.

This year's theme for the University of Arkansas' heritage month observance is "Hispanic Americans: Our Rich Culture Contributing to America's Future."

From academic lectures to student-sponsored cultural events, Latino student leaders recognize the need to heighten awareness of Latinos on their campuses.

Andres Wong, a member of the Latin American Student Association at Georgia State University said, "In order to understand these new (globalization) ideas, people have to leave their ethnocentric views and merge with other cultures. This is why cultural awareness at GSU is key in helping establish a more tolerant society."

But like the popular saying: You have to know where you come from to know where you're going, mainstream America needs to be reminded of the roots the Latino culture has historically had in the country.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the National Register of Historic Places has developed the campaign: "Hispanic Americans: Making a Positive Impact on American Society,"

The national caretaker of historic landmarks wants to highlight "the ingenuity, creativity, cultural and political experiences of Hispanic Americans."

On their web site, they created a virtual tour of sites around the country that have significant meaning to U.S. Hispanic history. There are even links to research databases that focus on this country's Spanish colonial past.

Unlike what anti-immigrant pundits would like for the country to believe, Latinos haven't just arrived, but rather have always had a hand in shaping our future.

About Marisa Trevi??o:
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