We are fully into the 2021 Latino Heritage Month, a celebration regarding the artifacts of its culture and history. It has been the case that we tend to take the month-long commemoration for granted as it is one of several group heritage remembrances that define the image of a multicultural America.
It just so happens that the first major event that coincides with the beginning of Latino Heritage Month is Mexican Independence Day on the 16th of September. The 11 year war that began in 1810 manifested the 3 major cultural manifestations that continue to influence Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the largest Latino group in the United States.
As mentioned in previous essays, the three major aspects of Mexican heritage brought to this country are a largely Indian past that features several great preColombian civilizations, a European constructed colonial system and the appearance of the Mestizo, a purely American ethnic and racial phenomenon that has sought to establish its own identity. These 3 sometimes contradictory elements that form the basis of the Latino self-image began in Mexico and the American Southwest and have spread to the rest of the country.
That is the heritage is being celebrated. That is also a heritage that has significant characteristics that need to be overcome.
The question of identity is one that Mexico is still grappling with. In his works, Octavio Paz, the great Mexican thinker, brought to the surface many contradictions in the Mexican being.
Those contradictions have resulted in the emasculation of the Mexican soul. Paz’ dialectical discussions even reduces that being to elementary “nothingness.”
In a sense, that is necessary because the field needs to be cleared in order to reveal the buried treasure of possibilities. The grandeur of Eagle (symbol of consciousness) devouring the Serpent (symbol of the unconscious) stamped into every aspect of Mexican life is a powerful tool of identity and yet, at the same time, reveals a structural incompleteness that cannot be resolved.
The colonial heritage that produced a vertical and hierarchical “patron” system, for example, is still part of the psychological baggage carried by Latinos. Those realities continue to color important aspects of Latino life in America.
The third construct of Latino heritage is the Mestizo born in North America as early as 1512. Initially of a European father and Indian mother, the Mestizo diversified its genetic makeup to include other racial and ethnic elements in the persona.
The Mestizo is the first person truly born in the Americas and can claim that heritage. Everyone else in our history or prehistory came from somewhere else.
It is this being, an outcast in the beginning that clawed a way into awareness and recognition that eventually became the purveyor and guarantor of independent Latin America. It is this character that has successfully labored for American greatness including in the United States.
To sum up, heritage is a tricky thing because we are obliged to accept both the good and the bad in its journey. When that does not happen we see things like what is going on in our country today where right and wrong is a matter of race and not history.
Latino heritage month is a time to celebrate the positive contributions of a rich and diverse culture. It is also a time to reflect on the experience of a people seeking a better future.
That experience takes us back to early times in Europe and ancient times in America. Most of all, it takes us back to a new being born in America.