September 15 to October 15 is the designated period to celebrate the heritage of yet another ethnic minority in the United States. Why are we compelled to celebrate things that we have yet to be comfortable with? Why does heritage make us look backwards while we consciously evade the here and now. Earlier in the year we also celebrate the Black Heritage Month, that over the years has become but a lip-service ritual in the name of tolerance and equality.
Heritage is a continuum, one that connects the past with the present; we cannot therefore celebrate it by glorifying merely the past of a people. For instance, slavery is as much a part of the American heritage, as is entrepreneurship; the glory of desegregation is a part of our young heritage as is the embarrassing Japanese American Internment. The tragedy of 9/11 has become embedded in our heritage along with the united healing that followed this catastrophe. A people's heritage is a work in progress and makes for mixed emotions, and it is insincere, unfair, perhaps impossible to present or celebrate it in entirety, so why even make these naive attempts!
A friend's mother wrote the following piece after she witnessed one such attempt to celebrate her heritage:
"In the 80's we talk about a raising tide of mediocrity. Now what we have is a tsunami. This is in response to the exhibit in commemoration of Hispanic Heritage Month at Cumberland County Library.
Hispanic cultures are not a can of Vitarroz or Goya products. We are the result of the Latin expansion in what now we call Europe, we are eight centuries of Arabic domination; we are the magnificent body of knowledge translated by the Jewish. We are the African influences. We are the heritage of the Mayas, Aztecs, Incans and Tainos among others. We are Indian languages still spoken in our times and European influences too. One of the most powerful influences is the Spanish language we all share. We are the Golden Age of literature. We are Cervantes, the picarest novel. We are Lope de Vega and Calderon de la Barca with his glorious "Life is a Dream" We are Luis de Góngora, Tirso de Molina, We are Duque de Rivas and Gustavo Adolfo Becquer. We are Benito Perez Galdos and Unamuno. We are Antonio Machado. We are Pio Baroja and Garcia Lorca We are "Facundo" and "Martín Fierro" and La Avellaneda. Do you know her poem "Al Partir" bring tears to my eyes every time I read it? We are Issacs's "Maria" What about "Doña Barbara"?. Yes, we are "Doña Barbara". We are Jose Marti one of my role models. We are Eugenio Maria de Hostos and Lola Rodríguez de Tío. We are the great Mexican novel "El Zarco" and the great Colombian writer Garcia Marquez. We are from the left and from the right. Librarians from Cumberland County Library we are not a can of Goya products. We are Francisco Goya the great painter consider the father of modern art. We are the magic realism of Isabell Allende and the feelings of Julia de Burgos and the passion of Nicolas Guillén. We are the music of Beny More and Tito Puente. We are Celia Cruz. We are salsa, merengue, bachata and tango. We are La Celestina and "Viaje a la Semilla" of Alejo Carpentier. We are regeton and contemporary writers such as Hijuelos or Cisneros who are part now of the United States literature.
Does Che Guevara have space in our culture? Yes. For many of us he was a terrorist, a mass murder and opportunist who executed many people. We do not want the library to become a center for communist propaganda. We want the library to be a sanctuary of ideas. All ideas. Do not remove the picture of Che. I do not want censorship in the United States. Let the trust come out. Display books about him from all points of view. I do not have problem talking about him. I have a problem displaying his picture without an explanation. Yes, we consume rice and beans, pastels, arepas or tequila but we create beauty for the world to enjoy and the library is the place to find it. We are not a can of Vitarroz or a picture of a terrorist without an explanation. He is an enemy of free markets. He is an enemy because his ideas are still alive. Do you want firing squads executing Americans because they like Ben Franklin? That is exactly the ideas Che will bring to the United States. We do not want that and we do not want a library to represent us with a bottle of tequila."