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Esther Cepeda: The silliness that is Hispanic Heritage Month cannot end soon enough

First Published      Last Updated Oct 01 2016 06:00 pm

CHICAGO • Thank goodness Hispanic Heritage Month is almost over. I'm not a fan, because who wants to be paid lip service for 30 days? And it's not even a proper full month, but the latter half of September and the early part of October.

Sure, several mid-September days mark the anniversaries of the independence of multiple Latin American countries, but that seems to have little to do with honoring the "contributions Hispanics have made [to this country] throughout our history," according to this year's official White House proclamation.

Hispanics are nothing less than all-American constructs. Ironically, though, it's a classification that's mostly meaningful to non-Hispanics in the United States.




Check it out: Anywhere in the world my mom goes she is Mexican. My father, a naturalized U.S. citizen who has lived here longer than anywhere else, is, to others, forever from Ecuador. Me? No matter where in the world I go, I'm an American — except for in Latin America where I'm a "gringa," which I'm perfectly comfortable with, thank you very much.

Here in the U.S., it's far more complicated. White, Asian and black non-Hispanics call us Latino, Hispanic, the teeth-grinding "Latin," and sometimes even the cringe-inducing "Spanish." And if they're from California, they might whip out "Chicano" as well.

Generally there's been a years-long (and incredibly tiresome) back-and-forth among people with Latin American heritage about whether they should be identified as "Latino" or "Hispanic." As of last count — the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project reported on this phenomenon in 2012 — a few of these people (21 percent, including me) were a minority-within-a-minority who identified as "American."

At that time, a majority (51 percent) of those with Latin American lineage said that they most often identify themselves by their family's country of origin. If they were pressed to pick between "Hispanic" and "Latino," 33 percent (versus 14 percent) favored "Hispanic."

But in internet time, 2012 was practically the Stone Age, and we're way past simple binaries.

These days, label lovers fight over whether Hispanics should refer to themselves as the gender neutral or inclusive "Latin@s" or "Latinx," two terms derived from "Latino."

In short order, those may be passe as well, if marketers have their way.

According to the trade publication MediaPost, "ambiculturals" are poised to become a hot new demographic. MediaPost, citing a Nielsen Company research paper, recently described Hispanics who are 34 and under and bilingual as having "a true ambiculturalism ... 'at once entirely American and entirely of one's culture of origin. Savvy marketers are taking notice and crafting dual-language communications that speak to both the American spirit and the Latino soul.'"

Targeting the "Latino soul" so they can sell it consumer goods? Give me a break.

Also contending for this mystical, young Latino soul are politicians. NBC Latino recently reported on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign outreach to "bilennials," a portmanteau of "bilingual" and "millennials."

Spending precious time and resources talking about cutesy branding for a population with serious public policy concerns and a reputation for staying home on Election Day seems like fiddling while Rome burns.

Hispanic Heritage Month brings out the worst in big-name brands, and Hispanic journalists in this country spend a lot of time wisely emptying their inboxes of tone-deaf come-ons from merchants looking to "share" their special #HHM emojis, Aztec-themed vodka cocktails, and upscale tortilla presses and quesadilla makers.

Look for this silliness to eventually become extinct.

As immigration from Latin America slows and Hispanics continue to marry and reproduce with people from other ethnicities and races — and generally stop being made to feel as though their ancestry is their defining characteristic — the big to-do about Hispanic Heritage Month will go the way of German-American Heritage Month (also Sept. 15-Oct. 15), which I'd bet most people didn't know has been a thing since 1987.

Among Pew's 2012 findings about Hispanic/Latino labeling was that most Latinos (69 percent vs. 29 percent) said that the more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S. have many different cultures rather than a common culture.

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