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WASHINGTON –The month that the nation celebrates its Latino roots is underway, but with the strained relationship between President Donald Trump and many in the Latino community, are people feeling celebratory?
Hispanic Heritage Month began Friday a little over a week after hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, the majority of them Latino, were told the president was ending the deportation relief program that had let them stay legally in the U.S., go to school and get higher-paying jobs. The month will go forward as the president and Democrats negotiate over the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
It's also taking place as many Latinos are processing Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio, a convicted sheriff who is infamous for the arrests and harassment of Latinos who “looked” to be in the country illegally.
Trump’s administration is plowing ahead with plans for a border wall with Mexico. Though the rate of Latinos who gained health insurance under Obamacare was higher than any other ethnic group, the administration is cutting funding to organizations that help enroll Hispanics in healthcare.
It's also pushing forward with a voter fraud investigation based on the false premise that millions of people here illegally voted in the presidential race. Add to that the toll on many Latinos taken by hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the earthquake in Mexico.
Despite all this, the annual star-studded Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations were held this past week in the nation's capital. Organizers of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) gala - often referred to as “Latino prom” or “brown prom" - did not invite Trump, the first time in 40 years that a president was not invited.
“This is the part of the program when we usually hear from the president of the United States. He wasn’t invited. I think you know why,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the CHCI institute, to the attendees at Wednesday’s gala.
There are Hispanics who remain in Trump’s camp and at least one celebration, the Hispanic 100 Foundation gala, is being held next month in California, and it will feature members of the administration.
At the recent Washington galas, we asked Latinos across the ideological spectrum what there is to celebrate this month.
LAURA ESQUIVEL, Hispanic Federation director of national advocacy: “ We can focus on the attacks, but I think it’s to our detriment. We have to fight them. It would be too sad if I succumbed to the belief that this is how the majority of the country feels about this community."
Esquivel noted that the movie "Dolores," about civil rights icon Dolores Huerta, was opening in Washington, D.C. this weekend. “This is exactly what we need right now, to see this film and be reminded that we can win and that we do it by organizing and talking to people and never giving up.”
REP. JOAQUÍN CASTRO, D-Texas, chairman Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: “Despite many tough issues for the Latino community today, there are still many things to celebrate. The Latino community is growing and thriving and is in many new parts of the country."
"More Latinos are still going to college every year. Latinos are still opening businesses at a high rate and the last several months have demonstrated the cohesion and strength of the Latino community across the U.S., the way everybody has mobilized to protect the Dreamers to push for immigration reform and push back against stereotypes against immigrants and the Latino community generally.”
BENITO MARTINEZ, actor: “I refuse not to celebrate it. I’m proud of our culture. I’m proud of our successes. I’m proud of what we do. I’m proud of what I see when I look in the mirror. I’m proud of my family."
"I would celebrate it not only during Hispanic Heritage Month, but every day of the year, every day and if other people are uncomfortable with it, that’s their problem. Right now I’m making sure to shout to the skies with my work, with my activism about all the positive contributions. We will not be denied our basic human rights."
DANIEL GARZA, president, The LIBRE Initiative: “We have to keep in mind how far we’ve come. Thirty years ago, we were still on the outside looking in. Today we have a group of insiders in state legislatures across the country, younger people are staffers are moving policy and legislation. We have a broader and deeper voice in the American political experience … That said, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
CESAR VARGAS, attorney, former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient: “My mother has always said ‘cuando una puerta se cierra, otra puerte se abre,’ (when one door closes, another opens.” I am thankful; despite all this craziness and anti-immigrant rhetoric, we are still seeing at the same time a robust wave of support from our community, from our neighbors, protesters, people across the country."
"Going into this month, we should re-emphasize what we are striving for, but not just for one month. We are actually demanding recognition of our heritage and culture, but for the future. We are going to ensure this month can be perpetuated in the conscience of people: that Latinos do contribute and are part of the fabric and deserve respect from elected officials.”
MARIA TERESA KUMAR, Voto Latino founding president and CEO: “This (month) is our rallying cry. We are firmly in the crosshairs of this administration. Whether it’s the rescinding of DACA, the pardoning of someone for racially profiling Latinos, the pumped up voter commission led by perhaps one of the most nativist elected officials – Kris Kobach – it is clear we have to start creating our own space."
"The cultural aspect of Hispanic Heritage Month is a reminder of our contributions and our indigenous routes, that we didn't come here 10 days ago or 10 years ago. There's never been a history of America without Latinos."
FELIX SANCHEZ, co-founder National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, which held its annual star-studded gala last week: “We’ve all become somewhat numb to all of the crises that are presently facing the country, whether national disasters that impact the Latino community in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico, or man-made disasters. All of these things are overwhelmingly suppressing our support system."
"I think arts and culture is always a way to communicate. Hope and aspiration always has been a way to express ourselves and so we are going to use this time to try to garner strength as a community and mobilize against all these forces that are damaging the core of our communities."
MARU MONTERO, ballet folklorico dancer and founder of Maru Montero Dance Co.: “Every single organization that is Latino-related should definitely (celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month) with more power and noise than ever. There are a lot of people who don’t feel represented now and are alone and I have friends who are giving the keys to the houses to other friends because they don’t know what’s going to happen."
"Every day we should say 'Here we are. Here we are. We bring you these events to entertain you and to bring you more culture and bring you more tools.' Yes, everyone should do it big.”
DANIEL HERRERA, musical director, Los Gallos Negros, a band founded by several Latino Capitol Hill staffers: “I still think there is a sense of celebrating culture as part of resistance. In a very real sense, we’ve gotten more requests to play for social justice events."
"We’e always been connected to that, but this year there’s that greater sense of urgency and broader sense of resistance.”
MARIO RODRIGUEZ, founder Jonathan Grey & Associates consulting and ad specialty firm, CEO of Hispanic 100: "Latinos are not being attacked. Look at the economy. Jobs are being created. Manufacturing is coming back. A lot of positive things are going on. Look at this DACA thing, something had to happen sooner or later and it did. "
"Now we can come together once and for all, now we can come together and put the pressure on Congress, where it needs to be. If we get a bill that is fair and firm, I bet the president will sign it. That’s my personal opinion.”
RYAN GUZMAN, actor: “’There’s always reason to celebrate. The second you start letting other people affect you, is the second you give them power. We’re too powerful for that. We have too much culture. We’ve earned our right to be who we are and be proud of who we are.”
SANDRA CISNEROS, writer and activist: “I’m here (at the CHCI gala) because we are in the age of ‘susto’ (fright) … We’re being targeted, vilified, discriminated against and racially profiled, abused and that’s putting it lightly and if you are not here, you are part of the problem. Every day is Latino Heritage Month. We were here since before the world was round. We are not illegal. We are the first nations."
ESAI MORALES, actor and co-founder National Hispanic Federation for the Arts: What you celebrate is the fact that we’ve gotten this far. We celebrate the fact that we are not taking it lying down. We celebrate the fact that we have challenges that bring us together. Were it not for that, we might not pay attention. The good thing about this administration is I’ve never seen so many people engaged in politics.”
JIMMY SMITS, actor and cofounder National Hispanic Federation for the Arts, which held its gala last Monday: “Today’s 9/11 and so it’s a very somber day for me. Because of all the natural disasters that have happened, it made me reflect about people helping other people, people commiserating with other people and people becoming refocused, about what action is all about, what each person can do to further the cause...We have got to find ways to not be complacent.”
DANNY TREJO, actor: “I think in this political climate the one thing we are celebrating is fear. A lot of Latinos are afraid, even a lot of Latinos who are here legally. I’ve been stopped two or three times."
"I met two young ladies that were Dreamers. They are both going to college, they are both working. We’re sending our future out of this country.”
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, “Hamilton” creator, playwright, actor, composer and lyricist: “Amongst all of those clouds is the silver lining of the perseverance of our people. This night (at CHCI gala) represents that. The amazing groundswell of support for Dreamers represents that.”