Celebrate Latinx/e Heritage Month

Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Latine Heritage Month 2023
While on vacation this month, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Mexican Heritage Celebration on Sept. 15 in California. The event commemorated Mexican Independence Day and was full of family, fun, food, and a fabulous mariachi band. It was a great kick off for Latinx/e Heritage Month for me as it gave me the chance to reflect deeply on culture, identity, and community.

Like other identities celebrated throughout the year, Latinx/e communities are incredibly varied, spanning continents, cultures and languages. Latinx/e Heritage Month gives us time to honor and reflect upon the rich heritage, contributions, and achievements of Latinx/e individuals and communities.

No community is a monolith. Part of the task in observing this month is to recognize that we are not just celebrating a single heritage or story. We must recognize the racial and cultural diversity within these communities. The perspectives of each culture matter and deserve our collective care and attention. It is the responsibility of those who do not hold these identities to uplift and center these communities.

In recognition of this diversity, let me address the words we use. I recognize that “Hispanic,” “Chicano/a” and “Latinx/e” are a few of the many terms of identity used in these diverse communities. Using just one term risks oversimplifying the rich history and diversity of the people of these descents. My intention is not to be exclusionary or use these terms interchangeably, but to observe the month in order to honor and learn more.

And with this recognition comes the first way in which we are called to observe this month. We are called to listen. We must listen to the words people use, respect how they identify and take time to hear their experiences and stories. We must make space for people to advocate for themselves and follow and support their leadership.

This month, and every month, we are also called upon to learn. We must delve into the stories, accomplishments, and struggles that have shaped Latinx history, and all our histories. There are efforts afoot, even in Washington, to silence histories that force us to face times when our country has fallen short of its promises. When we reject biased and hurtful narratives that obscure the contributions of Latinx/e peoples, we make space for truth, for healing, and for recognizing opportunities to build a stronger country.

And finally, we are called to lift people and their voices up. This is something that we have been intentional about in our work at the ACLU of Washington. We have reached out to communities across the state to hear their concerns and have supported the efforts of Latinx/e leaders and activists who have been fighting for justice and equity. Immigration enforcement and access to healthcare are just two spaces where we have forged partnerships and collectively, we brought about positive change.

The ACLU-WA has, in collaboration with the Health Equity for Immigrants campaign (“HEIC”), worked towards health care equity for immigrants. Due to federal restrictions, many health coverage programs in Washington exclude undocumented people. This resulted in more than 100,000 of Washington’s immigrants living without access to care.

Working with HEIC, over the last few years we called on the Washington state Legislature and the federal government to ensure affordable health care coverage for immigrants. 

One major success was becoming the first state in the country to get federal permission to allow undocumented immigrants the same ability to buy health coverage on the state’s health insurance exchange as everyone else. The HEIC also successfully advocated for funding for a Medicaid-like program for undocumented immigrants, which will begin July 2024.  These new avenues to health coverage will save lives.

The ACLU-WA has also been active in immigrant rights and worked alongside immigrant-led organizations from across the state in drafting and passing a law called Keep Washington Working (KWW). KWW prohibits local law enforcement and jails from collaborating with the federal deportation pipeline. This law promotes fairness to immigrants, reduces racial profiling, and protects the privacy and civil rights of all Washington residents by prohibiting local law enforcement from using their time and resources on federal deportation efforts.

This month, we are called as an organization and as a human community to listen, to learn, and to lift up Latinx/e communities and follow their leadership. We must constantly strive to grow in strength by working together and when we fail in our aims, to pick ourselves up and commit to doing better. And of course, just as I had the chance to do in California last week, let’s celebrate the beauty and diversity of Latinx/e communities. This month let’s celebrate the richness and resilience of those who are members of Latinx/e communities. Every day let’s work together to build a Washington and a United States that lives up to its promises and honors and nurtures all communities.

Resources to learn more:

Washington-based organizations:

Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs: National Hispanic Heritage Month

El Centro De La Raza: El Centro De La Raza’s History & Evolution

Washington state history:

University of Washington: Latinos and Seattle's Civil Rights History

Washington State Historical Society: Latino Past and Present in Washington State History

Revisiting Washington: Latino Heritage  

Documentaries, stories, and virtual exhibits:

PBS: Latino Americans 
  • Documentary featuring interviews with nearly 100 Latinos and more than 500 years of history.
The Library of Congress: National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2023 - Audio and Video

National Museum of the American Latino: Virtual Exhibitions  

Web resources:

National Museum of the American Latino: Hispanic Heritage Month Resources 
  • A website geared toward K-12 educators with lessons accessible to all.
National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures: NALAC 
  • The nation’s leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the Latino arts field.