Latinos are also an integrating force in the Western hemisphere – the bridge linking North, South, and Central America. This connection should not be underestimated. Our economic future is tied to Latin America. U.S. exports to Central and South America grew 86% percent between 2004 and 2009 and are on track to more than double during the next 5 years.
Today’s changing demographics also herald the emergence of our diverse and mosaic society. And Latinos are diversity – a rich salsa of cultures, countries, and ethnic groups. They come in many colors: white, brown, red, chocolate, or latte. Latinos are a fusion people – mainly Spanish and the indigenous people of this hemisphere. With such a colorful array of fiesta loving, family-centered, hard-working, and tamale eating Latinos, one might wonder, what could possibly keep this sundry group together? What are the connecting points of the Latino culture?
Much like the Jewish community, Latinos are an ethnic or cultural group. They are connected by the Spanish language, a shared history, a revered spiritual tradition, and common values. Values are the nucleus shaping a collective identity from the delectable smorgasbord of the Latino familia. Because Latinos are a culture not a race and culture is learned there exists the potential to join in and become a Latino by corazón (heart) or affinity.
This is further enhanced by the Latino tradition of welcoming and “adopting” people into their families. My brother-in-law Karl who is of German decent or my niece Lorrie’s Anglo husband can both attest that if you hang around Latinos long enough the rhythm is going to get you.
Latino diversity is also evident in the way we embrace many generations. A Latino event or gathering might have a
mélange of niños (children), elders, budding teenagers, and adults from every period of life. Latinos venerate age and experience. At the same time, young people are the promise of tomorrow. This approach is critical today because an immense generation shift is occurring. The Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in history. Leaders must concern themselves with the well-being of our grandchildren and prepare to pass the torch to a new generation of leaders.
Latino inclusiveness is also found in their bienvenido (welcoming) spirit which reflects their hospitality, generosity, and respect for people. If you are not a Latino by birth Hispanic Heritage month is an invitation to become part of the familia – to experience our dynamic culture. To tap your feet to the salsa beat and become a Latino by corazón! To join with us in finding the common ground that unites us.
Another reason Hispanic Heritage month spans into October.is that Latin Americans and many US Hispanics today do not celebrate Columbus Day as the date of the “discovery” of America. After all, our Indigenous ancestors were already here. Latinos across our hemisphere celebrate the encounter of cultures and the birth of a new race on October 12 – El Dìa de La Raza. The term La Raza can be best translated as “the new Latino people of the new world.” A more inclusive definition of La Raza is a new family of man and woman composed of the original inhabitants of the Americas, the Indians, and all other immigrants from throughout the world who since the time of Columbus have come to the new world in search of a new creation.
Today when the US congress is grid-locked and many corporate leaders continue to skim profits for those at the top. Today as we seek to heal a divided nation. Latinos hold the promise of a new American with diversity, generosity, people, familia, community and inclusiveness at its core. They invite people to look beyond race – beyond differences – to the cultural, spiritual,and historical bonds that hold us together. Hispanic Heritage is not just a one month celebration –it is ensuring prosperity and the common welfare for future generations! It is embracing our shared American Legacy.
Juana Bordas is a long-time Denver leader, activist, and bestselling author. Her book The Power of Latino Leadership – Culture, Inclusion, and Contribution is the first comprehensive book on the subject and was published by Berrett-Koehler in 2013.