A Clueless City: Philadelphians Lack Basic Knowledge of Hispanic Heritage Month
After scurrying around City Hall and Dilworth Park to ask civilians simple questions about Hispanic Heritage Month for a short video, my colleague and I soon realized that the majority of Philadelphia is ill-prepared and misinformed about this nationally recognized celebratory period. Nevertheless, between every “um”, “uh”, or absolute radio silence, there came a widespread longing to understand and know more about this time of year. The interest is there, so why hasn’t the City taken advantage of it?
As a child going to a public elementary magnet school in Miami, El Mes de la Hispanidad (or Hispanic Heritage Month) was always given a hearty amount of pomp and circumstance. Hallways were brightly adorned with Central and South American flags and garland, classrooms were star studded with large posters of influential Latinos, and bake-sales transitioned from sprinkled cupcakes to arepas, pastelitos de guayaba, and tequeños. For me, my personal favorite part of the month was the day when we all got to dress-up in the traditional garb from where we were born or our parents were from. The boys dressed up like matadors, futboleros, or boxeadores, while the girls dressed like Thalίa, Shakira, Frida Kahlo, Selena, or generic flamenco dancers. Because I wanted to stand-out amidst all of my cubanita peers, I wore the same dress every year my family in Mallorca- where my great grandparents are from -brought to me when I was six, until I reached an age where the hem was brushing my knees and a single breath could rip apart the stitches. Hispanic Heritage Month was, in short, kind of a big deal.
Perhaps I came into my assignment (producing a video on Hispanic Heritage Month in Philadelphia) a tad too optimistic, with expectations that stemmed from being raised in a place that is 66.8% Hispanic, compared to the 12.3% in this city. However, beyond the demographic statistics, I assumed that Philadelphians would have- at the very least -a basic or core understanding of Hispanic Heritage Month, such as the dates in which it is honored (September 15th to October 15th), which presidential administration established it (Ronald Reagan’s), or what it’s primary objective is.
After about three days of scurrying around City Hall and Dilworth Park in a highlighter hued maxi dress and a clunky red mic with AL DĺA blaring on its cubical sides, filming footage featuring folks of all races, religions, and regions, my colleague and I realized far too quickly an unfortunate truth: the majority of Philadelphia is ill-prepared and misinformed about this nationally recognized celebratory period. Children were clueless as to what “Hispanic” even meant, teenagers and young adults sheepishly admitted to being entirely unaware, and older persons laughed nervously at their own ignorance.
Nevertheless, between every “um”, “uh”, or absolute radio silence that came from these brief interviews, there came a widespread longing to understand and know more about this time of year. When further probed with follow-up questions after that initial awkwardness, such as: Why do you think it is important to have a day, a week, or a month designated to celebrate minorities? Why do you think this month is especially paramount given our current political climate? What do you think the difference is between the terms ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’? What do you think the contributions people of Latin or Spanish descent have made in this nation are?, I received endearing, heartfelt, compassionate answers that clearly articulated a desire to be more socially aware and engaged with the Hispanic/Latino narrative and our community. The interest is there, so why hasn’t the City taken advantage of it?
On the City of Philadelphia’s website, which is currently undergoing structural changes and is in “beta mode”, there is no sign of an Events Calendar that compiles the going-ons of the city that are available for the general public, including those that fall under the category of “Hispanic Heritage Month”. Other well-read blogs that focus on Philadelphia life, such as VisitPhilly and UWishUNu, do a considerably better job at spreading the word about Hispanic Heritage Month in Philadelphia, but they only highlight events such as parades or pub crawls. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am fairly certain that heritage, as complex and multilayered as it is (especially for Latinos and Hispanics in the United States), is comprised of more than just folkloric dancing and elote stands. These festivals may be jubilant and delicious, and I am by no means undermining their impact, but doesn’t the community of Spanish and Portuguese speakers in Philadelphia deserve to be made further visible in other ways, such as promoting events that go beyond “entertaining” the public, into “educating” the public? Moreover, what exactly are schools teaching their youth? Is Hispanic Heritage Month being given considerably less attention as- let's assume -Black History Month or Women’s History Month does in the classroom? If so, why is that?
The Census Bureau has estimated that the Hispanic population will grow by about 57% in this country by 2050. The City and its School District would be wise in using Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportune period of preparing and informing its current generation about the vibrant histories, cultures, and issues of the next diversified generation to come.