Misreading Hispanic heritage
CHICAGO — It’s Hispandering Heritage Month, err, I mean Hispanic Heritage Month, once again.
This is a time when — as the Democratic National Committee put it in their email introduction to daily profiles of Hispanic political candidates — “we celebrate the contributions of Hispanics to the United States and honor Hispanic leaders who have paved the way and fought for the Hispanic community.”
And here I was thinking it was just the time of year when misguided marketers hijack this event to publicize Hispanic-themed products that no self-respecting person of any ethnicity would ever purchase.
Like what, you ask? How about Acer’s selfie sombrero.
Described on various news sites (which didn’t seem altogether sure whether the product was a gag or not), the selfie sombrero is “a giant Mexican sombrero fitted with a tablet on the hat’s fold-down flap. The glittery sombrero is equipped with an Iconia A-1 840 tablet that can take a shot of the wearer from various angles.”
But this is, possibly, not the most egregious example.
The Latino Rebels, a group of Hispanic bloggers on the prowl for such affronts — and the official coiners of the term for the emerging genre of “Hispandering Heritage Month Ads” — have taken note of everything from Hispanic heritage underwear to heritage month ads for coffee creamers, alcoholic drinks, department stores and toilet paper.
And, really, what could make any family prouder of their heritage than squeezably soft toilet paper?
The backlash against any awareness campaign — as Hispanic Heritage Month can safely be categorized — was inevitable.
Many Hispanics are sick and tired of seeing marketers and other promoters misappropriate Hispanic Heritage Month and then all but ignore Hispanics the rest of the year (with the notable exception of Drinko, I mean, “Cinco” de Mayo).
And might the annual fall ritual of having something bright and colorful to associate with Hispanics also be tiresome to those who don’t identify as Hispanic?
I don’t want to draw too many broad conclusions, but in my 13-year-old son’s lifetime, the Hispanic awareness pendulum in schools has definitely swung way too far.
He has grown up in a time when art classes in public schools are, at best, a one-semester-per-year luxury. And for the second year in a row, his art class has landed in the first third of the school calendar, meaning that yet again, the much-coveted pottery unit has been canceled in favor of a project associated with Day of the Dead, a Latin American holiday to remember departed loved ones that just happens to coincide with Halloween.
“I’m screwed out of my pottery project, again,” the boy lamented to me last week. I retorted, “Well, I’m so sorry a much-loved tradition of mine and your grandparents’ culture is dragging you down.”
He reassured me: “No, I don’t mind the actual Day of the Dead stuff we do. But why do we have to do the same exact thing at school, every single year, for it?”
I patiently explained to him that, like the rest of U.S. society, his school is intent on being diverse, multicultural and inclusive, but doesn’t really have the chops to pull it off in way that doesn’t either offend people or bore them to death.
(A related complaint: The Halloween-ification of Day of the Dead symbols are degrading and annoying to those of us who actually use the celebration to honor our dead. Google “sexy Day of the Dead costumes” if you want to get a taste of the tacky insolence.)
So for those who are in charge of approving holiday or special-event themed marketing campaigns, culturally relevant school curriculums or diversity awareness programs, can you please be more imaginative?
The history of the many special groups in America deserves more thoughtful consideration than just a few disparate bursts of acknowledgment every year.
If you really want to raise awareness of another’s culture or celebrate its unique contributions to America’s wider society, don’t be so lazy.
Slapping a blatant signifier on your everyday offerings or trotting out the most reliable theme and considering it good enough is worse than simply resisting the urge to “celebrate” people whose favor you’d like to win by “honoring” them.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
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