REFLECTIONS/Jonathan Gramling

Jonathan Gramling

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage

I always like to say that the only place on earth where Latinos live is in the United States. Sometimes people will look at me strangely as they think about all of the people in Latin America. But if you go to Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic as I have, people refer to themselves as Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Dominicans in the same way that if one goes to Germany, they don’t say that they are European. They say that they are German.

If I am not mistaken, the term Hispanic came into wide use — I could be wrong here — in 1980 when the U.S. Census used it for the first time. And so, in essence, while the U.S. government didn’t invent the term, I feel that it began the labeling of people as Hispanic and later Latino. It was a term popularized for the purposes of the U.S. government and not necessarily in the best interest of those whom it describes.

On one hand, the term is a unifying force. In a place like Madison, especially before the late 1990s when the Latino population exploded off the charts, Latino was an important concept used to create community. There were handfuls of people from each Latin American country and so community was created around common cultural and linguistic backgrounds and social and political interests.

But as the Latino community grew, especially in the early 2000s, national identities came to the fore. Symbolic of that, in my mind, was the history of Fiesta Hispana. If my memory serves me correctly, Fiesta Hispana, held the third Saturday in July, was started primarily by Dora Zuniga when she was the executive director of Centro Hispano. What started out as almost an extension of the Farmer’s Market grew into a 2-3 stage festival held in Warner Park that included music, dancing and culture from across Latin America. By the 2000s, at least 10,000 or more people would participate in Fiesta at some point in the day.

But as the Latino community grew and critical masses of people from individual countries lived in the Madison area, talent and planners were drawn away to plan Independence Day festivals for Mexico and other Latin American countries. Fiesta Hispana faded into history while some of the individual country celebrations continue on to this day.

The terms Hispanic and Latino are still important today in the United States and Madison/Dane County. They give social and political power to people of Latin American ancestry. And yet, without creating disunity, it is also important to recognize the many heritages and cultural nuances — as well as history — of every Latin American country. While Bolivia is very conservative and the country where the revolutionary Che Guevara was killed, it was Chile that elected the Democratic Socialist government of Salvador Allende — who some also feel was killed by conservative forces.

Much in the spirit of The Capital City Hues’ mission statement above — The Hues celebrates our differences while always being aware of the common foundation of humanity we share — we present our ode to Hispanic Heritage Month. While it is hardly perfect, it attempts to express the diversity of the Latino community while also being an expression of unity, celebrating the differences while also appreciating the common foundation that people from Latin America share.

The Latino community is having a tremendous impact on the Greater Madison area. When I first came to Madison in the 1970s, I think the only “Latin American” restaurants were Taco Bell. But now there are many restaurants serving authentic cuisine from many Latin American countries.

In this issue, we feature Cultivarte Colectivo, a cooperative composed of artists from many different modes of artistic expression. They represent many countries. Way back in the day, I don’t remember running into any Latino artists.

There is so much to appreciate and learn from the Latino community. Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!