This Hispanic Heritage Month feels different
By Raul A. Reyes
On Monday, President Donald Trump hosted a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the White House and declared, "Hispanic Americans are not only living the American dream, but their incredible efforts are unlocking the American dream for citizens across our land." He added that Hispanics "inspire our entire nation."
But under a President who has rarely missed an opportunity to demonize Latinos and immigrants, some Latinos are likely wondering whether Hispanic Heritage Month matters, and whether we really have anything to celebrate. The answer is yes on both counts.
Hispanic Heritage Month is a four-week celebration of the history and culture of America's largest minority group. It began as a week-long event under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, and Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988.
This year, something feels different -- and that is thanks to the current occupant of the White House.
The President's antipathy toward Latinos is no secret. He literally began his campaign by referring to some Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and "rapists." As a candidate, he disparaged a distinguished federal judge because of his Mexican heritage and threw Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a press conference.
As President, he presided over a disastrous response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and then rejected the results of an independent study showing that thousands of people died on the island. Trump regularly conflates Latino immigrants with violent crime.
Given such an ugly political climate, you might think Hispanics would be losing faith in the country that elected a President who is hostile to our communities. Actually, the opposite is true.
According to research from the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos are significantly more likely than other groups to believe in core parts of the American dream. In 2016, more than three-quarters of Latinos said that people can still get ahead with hard work, a higher share than among the broader US public. So, despite the President's lack of respect for us, Latinos still believe in the promise of this country.
At a time when Latinos have sound reasons to feel under siege by the current administration, Hispanic Heritage Month remains especially relevant. It represents an opportunity for Hispanics to remind their family, friends, and allies of our myriad contributions to this country. Such conversations are important, because you may not be likely to hear them in the media, where Latinos continue to be underrepresented or portrayed as stereotypes.
In fact, Hispanics have plenty to celebrate over the coming month. A 2016 report from the nonpartisan Latino Donor Collaborative found that Latinos will be key to US economic growth in the future, and could power nearly one-fourth of the economy by 2020.
Latinos are making their mark on Wall Street, and Hispanic families and businesses are revitalizing small towns in rural America. As the Latino dropout rate has fallen, Latino college enrollment has hit new highs. Latinos are NASA astronauts and Harvard Law professors. One of the country's newest and brightest political stars is a Latina, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned the political establishment by winning her congressional primary in New York in June.
Still, like other Americans, Latinos have an overall sense that the country is not going in the right direction. A September Quinnipiac poll found that 55% of Hispanics are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today, with 58% saying that they believe that Trump is unfit to serve as President. More than half of Latinos disapprove of the job Trump is doing (53%), compared with about a third who approve (33%)
The only way Hispanics can achieve our vision of what this country can be is to exercise our rights as Americans and vote. More than ever, Latinos need to take charge of our own destiny, and that means making our voices heard. Registering to vote -- and then showing up at the ballot box in November -- is the best way of honoring both our Hispanic and American heritage.
No matter what this President and his administration says or does, nothing can diminish the pride that Latinos take in our people and our culture. For hundreds of years, Hispanics have endured, persevered, and succeeded in the United States -- and that will always be something to celebrate.