Hispanic Heritage Month Excludes Parts of Latin America

There is something extraordinarily odd about the word “Hispanic” in Hispanic Heritage Month. The word is exclusionary but also ironically Eurocentric during a month-long celebration and recognition of the independence of Latin American countries from European imperialism.

The same can be said about “Latinx,” a term used to generalize all the people of Latin America. “Latinx” (or “Latino,” the masculine form of the word that has been used historically) is also Eurocentric but it greatly differs from “Hispanic.” People from Spain or from Spanish speaking countries, like those in Latin America, are considered “Hispanic.”

But there is something important with this distinction that we are overlooking as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States.

Difference Between Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Latin American Countries

The adjective “Hispanic” only includes those who speak Spanish and excludes everyone who speaks any other language. By definition, Hispanic Heritage Month only recognizes “Hispanic” countries in Latin America. Countries that declared their independence from Spanish rule.

When European exploration of the Caribbean and the Americas first began, the Iberian Peninsula was occupied by two empires. The Spanish Empire and the Kingdom of Portugal. The Portuguese founded the transatlantic slave trade. But it was the Spanish who first reached the Caribbean in 1492 and the Americas in 1519.

Portugal quickly followed and, with the Treaty of Tordesillas, got the right to the eastern side of the “New World.” But of course, neither the Spanish, Portuguese, French, British, or Dutch had any true claims to the land that was already inhabited by millions of people.

Why “Hispanic” Heritage Month is Problematic

Latin America is generally considered to be all of Mexico, Central American countries, South America, and the Caribbean but the word “Hispanic” excludes a large portion of Latin America.

Countries Excluded from Hispanic Heritage Month

What today is the largest and most populous country in South America, was part of this eastern divide between Spain and Portugal. Hispanic Heritage Month excludes the country of Brazil. This is because the Portuguese colonized Brazil. Not the Spanish. But if you look at a map of South America, Brazil is surrounded by Spanish-speaking “Hispanic” countries

So it’s not surprising that if you travel east towards the Atlantic Ocean, a portion of countries in the Caribbean are also excluded from Hispanic Heritage Month. Haiti and Jamaica are probably the best examples of this. This is because in Haiti the official language is French and in Jamaica it’s English. Coincidentally, both countries’ populations are largely of African-descent.

Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the independence of various “Hispanic” countries, but it also completely overlooks the first Latin American country to gain its independence from European rule: Haiti. Haiti declared independence from the French in 1804, although the US took until 1862 to recognize it.

People Use Both Words Interchangeably, But They Have Different Meanings

The majority of Latin Americans here in the US, use both “Latinx” and “Hispanic” interchangeably. In fact, “Half of Latinos say they have no preference for either” term, according to the Pew Research Center. At the same time, these words have very specific meanings that are exclusionary of non-Hispanic Latin American countries that also fought and eventually defeated European colonizers.

This is another problem that follows the adjective “Hispanic” when we are thinking about independence in Latin America. If Hispanic Heritage Month is about independence from European rule, it’s irresponsible to continue ignoring the rest of Latin America. Brazil for example celebrates Independence Day on Sept. 7. That’s just eight days before the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Maybe It’s Time for a Change in Language?

Beyond the definition of “Hispanic” being exclusionary, the word is Eurocentric. Calling the descendants of forced Spanish colonization “Hispanic” is the ultimate way to make our indigenous roots seem inferior to our European background.

We’ve recognized that the Italian-born Christopher Columbus was a greedy, genocidal colonizer. We no longer recognize him as the one “discovered” the Americas because didn’t really discover anything. In response, Columbus Day is now Indigenous People’s Day in several states in the US. In Mexico, it’s now Dia de la Raza.

From a week to a month, for over 50 years we’ve recognized and celebrated Hispanic Heritage. We’ve done so without much thought about what the term “Hispanic” means exactly. But what if the entire conversation is wrong? Both “Hispanic” and Latinx” are Eurocentric adjectives. Both words overlook the indigenous and African ancestry of Latin America and only focus on European ancestry. But “Hispanic” takes it a step further by including only those from Spanish speaking countries.

Shouldn’t we reconsider renaming Hispanic Heritage Month something more inclusive of all Latin America? Something that we have a say over? Something that isn’t so accepting of European imperialism?

We can do without “Hispanic” all together. Maybe “Latinx” or “Latine” makes more sense. But there are always those who don’t agree with the gender-neutral version of “Latino.” In whatever case, we need to be more considerate about including everyone from Latin America during Hispanic Heritage Month. The 1800s were a period of revolution in all of Latin America. Not just in “Hispanic” countries.

We need an adjective to better describe ourselves. To better capture the heart and revolutionary spirit that allowed Latin American countries to free themselves from European imperialism. One that actually fosters more solidarity between Latin America.