National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history and traditions of America's second-fastest-growing ethnic group (after Asians). To learn more about this holiday and the nearly 400,000 Latinos in Utah, there is no better source than well-known Utah educator and activist Archie Archuleta. Now a retired school teacher and administrator, Archuleta is a well-known Chicano Latino activist. He has served in governmental groups and committees with civil-rights teachers' associations, was president of Utah Coalition of La Raza, does advocacy work with police, has discussed with the governor how to advance justice to minority groups and has been active in politics as head of the Chicano Latino Democratic Legislative Caucus. Archuleta really knows Hispanic heritage.
"Hispanic Heritage Month is important in order to pass down the history of how the largest minority in the U.S. became what it is," Archuleta says. "We celebrate Cinco de Mayo, when Mexico won independence from the French, and Sept. 16 when, in 1821, Mexico was liberated from Spain. Our heritage comes from both Mexico and Spain. Today we add South American and the Caribbean." Originally started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week in the U.S., in 1988, it became a month-long celebration starting on Sept. 15 to include national independence days throughout Central and South America.
Archuleta traces America's Hispanic roots to 1598 when Spaniards conquered and colonized first Florida, then New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California. "We are Mestizos, a mixed race of Spanish and Mexicans who came north, married with Aztec, Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, Arapaho, Comanche, Apache and African slaves when they were brought here."
The Spanish heritage influences the entire U.S. West with tiled roofs, rancho-style dwellings and religion, with missions that dot our landscape with recognizable names such as Fathers Dominques and Escalante. The cattle-and-horse industry originated in Spain, and Mexican food has become a big item in the Southwest. Salsa is now the condiment of choice in America, changed from mustard, and the taco has replaced the hot dog, he says.
Archuleta says Latinos, like all immigrants, seek three things: justice and prosperity, better education and to be respected for their cultural contributions to America. "So, we're working for social justice that includes not only voting privilege, but the right to receive good-paying jobs along with a good education and to be accepted into the society of the U.S. without our culture disappearing," he says. "We see that this is not only the land of opportunity ... and this is a land of justice that hasn't always lived up to that."
Angela Romero, representative from House District 26, also has something to add. She notes that Hispanics lived here before this was even America. "Many people have misconceptions about history," she says. "Following the Treaty of Guadalupe of 1848, when our ancestors were living in New Mexico and Colorado, the border crossed us—we didn't cross the border. We have a long-standing history in what is now USA. Others are new. Others are still aspiring. That is the beauty of our community, but it comes with misconceptions. We want to be successful, just like others. We want higher education like others. We are a proud community."
Continuing on that thread, Archuleta says, "White people don't understand the anguish the Latinos and blacks have related to police. It has gone on age after age and the history of lynchings still burn in our minds. The solution is that we need to build rapport with the police. I feel the police were not originally organized to save lives, but to protect property."
Asked what will solve the crime problem in the poorest parts of the Hispanic-Latino community and reduce fear in that community, Archuleta recites lyrics from the Johnny Cash song, "Out Among The Stars":
It's midnight at a liquor store in Texas,
Closing time, another day is done.
When a boy walks in the door and points a pistol,
He can't find a job but, Lord, he's found a gun.
He pulls it off with no trace of confrontation,
That he lets the old man run out in the street,
Even though he knows they'll come with guns ablazing.
Already he can feel that great relief.
Rep. Romero concludes, "The reason I am the person I am because I have been mentored by leaders like Archie Archuleta. They passed a legacy down to me and now I need to pass that legacy down to others. Cultural competency, uses of force, in the halls of city government, state government. I am proud of who I am and my ethnicity, and proud to be an American, but that includes the obligation to critique. You can be proud and still critique."
Utah Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, of House District 24, adds: "We celebrate to be remindful to the majority culture that we have always been here and what our ancestors did became part of our culture today. We have to understand the role of institutional racism. I want to make sure we are not always seen as an oppressed community. We also need to celebrate our successes as a society at large. The explorers, the heroes, the academicians, the role that race and ethnicity and racism affects our lives, but also to recognize our many accomplishments and contributions.
"I want people to feel that they can find joy in who they are in all of their diverse backgrounds. At the end of the day, I want them to be proud of their heritage within them and embrace fully the cultures they represent."