Beginning on Saturday, Sept. 15, and running through Oct. 15, Hispanic Heritage Month is intended to celebrate the significant presence and contributions of Latin Americans in North America. It isn’t some made-up Instagram holiday, nor an excuse to chug margaritas — it’s an annual event established by the United States government, like Black History Month, created to acknowledge an important segment of our country's population. With the current administration's discriminatory policies, mistreatment of immigrants and overall disrespectful words and actions toward Mexicans, Hispanic Heritage Month needs to be highlighted now more than ever.
Legislated first in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson (who declared a commemorative week), it was later expanded to a whole month and enacted into law in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. The second part of September was specifically chosen as it marks the anniversaries of independence for Central and Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, Belize and most significantly in Los Angeles, our neighbors in Mexico (Sunday, Sept. 16).
L.A. Weekly’s culture section will be covering various HHM events all month long as well as spotlighting some of Los Angeles’ most notable Latin people and places from the worlds of art, entertainment, literature, fashion, nightlife and more. To kick it off, we begin with Plaza de la Raza, the beautiful events center adjacent to Lincoln Park, where interactive programs and gatherings explore the history and contemporary expression of Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles and Southern California.
Though some take issue with the term “Hispanic,” there are just as many of us who have distaste for the trendy identifier “Latinx.” Chicano doesn’t quite work for everyone either, as it references those specifically of Mexican descent, plus the masculine/feminine forms aren’t inclusive to gender-nonconforming people. As a Mexican-Ecuadorian-American, I prefer the straightforward simplicity of “Latin” as a descriptor for me and for others, but I use “Latina” as well, especially when I want or need to acknowledge my womanhood in relevant situations or contexts.
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Last Saturday, Plaza de la Raza hosted the second annual Latina Writers Conference, bringing out a strong and enthusiastic contingent of female scribes for a day of networking, panels and, most of all, inspiration. The energy at the event was one of palpable pride, with a few hundred or so empowered poets, screenwriters, essayists, journalists and more coming together to share hopes, dreams, frustrations, experiences and resources in two areas. Plaza’s colorful patio and courtyard offered a social environment with live music from Lysa Flores, food and vendors selling jewelry, and books by participants and other Latina writers.
Panels with titles such as “Journalism and the Free Press,” “Self-Care for Writers,” “Women Writing TV & Film” and more provided a lively interactive forum, with talks at the end of the day getting especially real and enlightening. “Writing and Caretaking/Parenting” and “Space Making in the Digital World” both addresssed modern issues — finding time, finding one's voice, choosing outlets and staying relevant — that many in attendance could relate to.
For Hispanic Heritage Month, I urge you look up some of the talented women who spoke at the conference, as their work represents the spectrum of thoughtful, socially conscious, boundary-breaking Latin expression that's out there. From the later panels I attended, check out Julissa Calderón, a writer and actor currently bringing her Dominican background and comedic flare to BuzzFeed’s “Pero Like,” a web series representing the Afro-Latin experience and challenging stereotypes; Diosa and Mala from Locatora Radio, a “Radiophonic Novela” hosted by the native L.A. duo who call themselves Las Mamis of Myth & Bullshit celebrating “the experiences, brilliance, creativity and legacies of femmes and womxn of color”; Cynthia Gonzalez, an El Salvador–born/South Los Angeles–raised writer who serves as operations manager at Lil’ Libros — a bilingual children’s book publisher and the entertainment director and adviser for CineArte — A Latin Queer Film & Art Festival produced by the L.A. LGBT Center; Luisa Leschin, producer of The George Lopez Show and currently Amazon’s Just Add Magic; and poet Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, one of the conference organizers and founding member of Women Who Submit, a group that supports women sharing their writing.
There were many more who spoke at the event from the lit and media worlds. Go to Latino Arts Network's website (latinoarts.net/) and the Latina Writers Conference's Facebook page to discover them. Learn about events and programs, for Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond, at Plaza de la Raza at plazadelaraza.org.