Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week. We never learned about it in my schools, which prided themselves on being among the most progressive in the country. Every year we celebrated Black History Month, which began, amazingly, in 1926 as Negro History Week back when the Ku Klux Klan enjoyed its peak membership of 4 to 5 million people (or a whopping 15% of the nation's eligible men). Anyway, we students always raised the same questions: Is it in February because it's the shortest month? Where's Asian or Latino History Month? Where's White History Month? I don't recall my teachers having the answers except that we learned plenty of white history year-round and Black History Month was a time to recognize the contributions of a people to American culture who'd been systematically ignored.
So, this year I found out about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which began in 1978 and which I had NEVER heard mentioned. Some Asians I knew had, including, of course, noted justice-minded free-thinker Ngoc-Thu Thi Nguyen. She said it was marked by more documentaries about Japanese Internment Camps being shown on PBS. At the same time, I found out about Hispanic Heritage Month, which I mentioned started in 1968, and which I'd also never heard about.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I thought (educated mostly by Los Angeles' films and TV and music videos) that it was going to be 25% plastic people living in palatial homes, 25% blonde, leather-skinned weddos rollerblading down the Venice Boardwalk, 25% Crips and 25% Bloods. I don't know any of those people except O.G. Crip Greg "Batman" Davis, who's one of the patron saints of Amoeba's Black Cinema section. But that's pretty much what we were fed. And I thought, given its famous palm trees, it would be steamy and sub-tropical like my former home in Florida.
I got to Chino (which I wrongly figured was pretty close to the ocean) and drove to an El Pollo Loco in Chino Hills because I'd seen an ad in Spanish for it with a chihuahua that said a lot more than "Yo quiero Taco Bell," which piqued my interest. My friends in Chino and Pomona, whom I'd met in Iowa, showed me around. I flipped the radio stations and heard bandas, Vietnamese talk, ranchera (on the a.m.), Korean music, norteñas and freestyle. The people I saw everywhere didn't look like the people I'd been led to believe I'd see. And it was dry and cold at night. I still get annoyed when (invariably white) people characterize Los Angeles as a soulless botox world of corporate chains and cultureless (and invariably white) people. It's almost as though if you're not black or white, then you're invisible. The truth is that Los Angeles is probably the most ethnically (and culturally) diverse spot on the planet and possibly the universe. 46.5% of the population is Hispanic and/or Latino. Los Angeles was founded by the Spanish and then became part of Mexico with its independence. Following the rebellion of illegal American immigrants in Mexican Texas and its subsequent secession, they tried the same thing in Mexican California. Maybe that's why some people are afraid of immigrants from the south. Maybe we/they have this cultural memory about when white people moved illegally to the area, refused to assimilate or even learn the language and then revolted with guns because the creator of the Universe always had this plan for white people to settle on the Pacific which he communicated to Andrew Jackson in a vision, I suppose.
For those that will invariably question certain characters being included or not included:
It's an American holiday so all the figures are citizens of the US; hence, no Santo, Pedro Infante, Chalino, Tin Tan, &c. The display's in our movie department, hence, not every comedian, athlete or Hispanic celebrity you know of is there. Sorry, no Christina Aguilera. Finally, yes, they're all either Hispanic or Latino (in some cases both), despite their stage names or your (mis)conceptions about what makes someone Hispanic, which explains the inclusion of:
Sammy Davis Jr = Puerto Riceño
Cameron Diaz = Cubana
Raquel Welch (née Jo Tejada) = Boliviana
Madeleine Stowe = Costa Ricaña
Rita Hayworth (née Marguerita Cansino) = Española
And Jackie Lopez, famous Amoebite. Perhaps she hasn't been in any films, but there she is below Maria from Sesame Street and between Selma Hayek and Sofia Vergara, who is a fine actress -- I don't care what you say...
Follow me at ericbrightwell.com