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Last Wednesday, the White House issued a proclamation announcing the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. But this year, some Latinos are wondering what we have to celebrate.
For many Latinos, it is unsettling to approach Hispanic Heritage Month knowing that President Donald Trump generally holds us in low regard. Latinos’ relationship with Trump can perhaps best be described as mutual antipathy.
The president is profoundly ignorant and incurious about our culture and contributions to this country. This was evident in his campaign, literally from start to end. He began his presidential run by declaring that Mexican immigrants were drug dealers and “rapists,” and finished it by falsely asserting that he lost the popular vote due to millions of “illegals” voting. Last year, he thought tweeting about a “taco bowl” from the Trump Tower grill was a good way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. He publicly insulted prominent Latinos, from senators to distinguished judges to trusted journalists.
Since Trump was elected president, things have gotten worse.
The Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement policies have sown terror in immigrant communities. Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his racial profiling of Hispanics. Trump’s Department of Justice is taking aim at affirmative action, and his attorney general just announced the end of DACA, the program that protected young immigrants from deportation.
From climate change to LGBTQ rights to health care, the Trump administration has taken actions contrary to the interests of the Latino community. His administration even removed (and has yet to restore) Spanish-language content on the White House website.
Given this reality, this is probably the worst Hispanic Heritage Month since the tradition began as a week-long celebration in 1968.
Latinos, however, are resilient people. Despite how the president feels about us, our pride in our heritage remains undiminished. Despite the Trump administration’s assault on political and social norms, we still embrace values like inclusion and equality. And despite the Trump administration’s attacks on our communities, we still believe in the American Dream.
If this is not a “happy” Hispanic Heritage Month, that doesn’t mean Latinos should not celebrate it. For Latinos and our allies, the best way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month 2017 is to register to vote in the 2018 midterms. The future of the Latino community depends on political engagement like never before. A record number of 27 million Latinos were eligible to vote in 2016. Still, only 13 million turned out to vote in the presidential election that often felt like a referendum on our very identity as Americans. What happened to those other 14 million eligible voters? That is the question we Latinos must ask ourselves.
Since Latinos cannot look to our president for leadership, we must look to each other; that means electing leaders who will hold the administration accountable. Now is the time for Latinos and allies to get involved with the advocacy groups that represent our interests. We must raise our voices on issues like voter suppression and redistricting. We must demand our representatives secure aid for storm victims in Texas and Florida, home to the nation’s second- and third-largest Hispanic populations, as well as Puerto Rico. We should support African American, Asian American, Muslim, LGBTQ, and women’s groups in their struggles for representation and justice. We shall overcome this president – together.
Above all, Latinos must resist the temptation to become disillusioned and drop out of the political process.
As great as the threats to Latinos are from the Trump administration, apathy is dangerous, too. Consider that someday our children and grandchildren will ask what we did during the Trump era. Remaining on the sidelines will not be the right answer.
Sure, things may look grim for Latinos these days, with rumors of massive immigration raids and cuts to Latino health initiatives. It is of some comfort that we are certainly not alone in our general distaste for Trump; his approval rating continues to hit historic lows.
Most importantly, the history of U.S. Latinos has been largely defined by perseverance in the face of adversity, and we will not stop fighting for our families and our communities now. In spite of everything, Hispanics seem to have a realistic, if measured, view of the country. While a growing share, according to Pew, is worried about the situation of Latinos under the Trump administration, a majority (54 percent) are still confident about our place in America. Unlike Trump, most Latinos believe that America’s greatness never went away.
Trump’s dark, dystopian vision of the U.S. will be temporary. In contrast, Latinos’ optimism and faith in our country will endure forever.