To close off National Hispanic Heritage Month, a former associate at Spectator reached out to Chicano Caucus, inviting us to write an op-ed on “diversity.” After recovering from the thought of having to tackle such a broad topic, we realized the disservice we would do to the subject in responding alone, considering that the “Hispanic” opinion on diversity is so diverse in itself. Thus, we enlisted the help of the Latino Heritage Month committee. Notice that it is not called the Hispanic Heritage Month committee—the reason for that is the first point that we want to make.
“Hispanic” is an identifier that was first used in the 1970 census to categorize those of us with roots in Spanish-speaking countries. This was not a term that we created or agreed upon, but one that was imposed to lump us together by the most rudimentary commonality: our language. While language is an important factor of culture, it in no way encompasses the complexity of our identities. And so, the Columbia-Barnard student group that celebrates this month is called the Latino Heritage Month. Recognizing the duality of our identities, “Latino” refers to those of us who trace our ancestry to Latin America, while attempting to reconcile those roots with various American environments. The term especially acknowledges that being Latino means figuring out how to balance multiple identities to create a more comprehensive one that represents all of our life experiences.
To get back to the colossal topic of “diversity,” our interpretation of the multiple Latino cultures is dependent upon our national backgrounds, the regions where we grew up, and our economic statuses, just to name a few factors. In consulting other Latino groups on campus, the responses we received on the topic were reflective of this diversity. Grupo Quisqueyano, for example, explained that their identity as Dominicans has been shaped around balancing the European elements that the history books have forced upon the minds of their people, the Taíno origins that were native to their lands, and the African ancestry that is a fundamental aspect of their culture. Meanwhile, PorColombia feels that being Colombian-American means fighting past the darker days that the media projects onto their homeland, and instead using the stories and proverbs passed down through generations to remember the wonders that give life to their childhood stories. For the Columbia University Scholar Chapter of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Latino experience means channeling their energy toward their career aspirations to promote diversity in education and in the workforce through pre-professional events and high school mentorship programs. For us, being Chicano means knowing that our roots are deeply founded in the Southwest and are incredibly visible around the country, but that we still have to fight to immigrate because the border decided to cross us in 1848. These rich and unique experiences are but a few of the representations of the Latino identities on our campus.
To honor these complexities, the theme for Latino Heritage Month’s programming this year is “Mis Pies En Dos Tierras”: “My Feet in Two Lands.” This month aptly commemorates the countless childhood stories, repressed ancestors, uprooted families, and ceaseless endeavors; it does justice to the experiences that make up our Latino diversity.
So when we were approached about writing a piece on diversity to honor Latino Heritage Month, we didn’t want to revisit the topic of the importance of diversity or highlight our obvious diversity on campus, but rather to reflect on the diversity within the Latino community as a whole. Admittedly, this op-ed does not embody entirely what it means to be Latino, so instead we hope that it gives everyone a new perspective of who we are and what we bring to the “diversity” conversation. We hope that, as Columbia students, we not only recognize but also celebrate the fact that there is no one Latino culture or identity.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in Latin American and Iberian cultures and human rights. She is the co-president of Chicano Caucus. Various members of Grupo Quisqueyano, PorColombia, the Latino Heritage Month Committee, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund's Columbia University Scholar Chapter contributed to the ideas in the op-ed.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.