September is for salsa (both music and food), Spanish, sabor (taste), salud (health), and símbolo (symbol). 

Well, September 15 (specifically the second half of the month) kicks off Latino Heritage Month. It runs from September 15 to October 15. The logic for starting in the middle of this month is that certain countries (like Mexico, Chile, and other Latin American nations) celebrate their independence in mid-September through mid-October. 

As we begin to prepare our Latino heritage celebrations, it’s worth noting that 2023 is uniquely different. Why? Because our culture has had a remarkable year thus far. 

Here are five reasons why I think Latino heritage is worth celebrating this year.

1) We have had not one but two successful Latino films this year: Flamin’ Hot and Blue Beetle. The first film was released earlier in the summer and displayed the unique story of Richard Montañez, who goes from working on the floor of the Frito-Lay company in Rancho Cucamonga to Director of Multicultural Marketing. 

The second film, Blue Beetle, symbolizes our first major Latino live-action superhero on the big screen. 

As a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I loved X-Men (specifically Wolverine). Admittedly, I enjoyed these old comics due to my brother, who was my best friend growing up. Now as an adult, it’s easy to recognize that none of those comics had characters that represented my Latino heritage. Without trying to spoil this movie, my inner child was happy to see not just Latino symbols (like “vaporú” aka Vicks VapoRub or la Virgen de Guadalupe) but also values that represented me, such as being a first-generation student in college. Blue Beetle is a Latino film made by Latino artists, which is a rarity, a first of its kind.

2) Our population (and language) are on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in May of this year, the Latino population has aged faster over the past decade. Yet, the children of Latino origin made up a quarter for all children under age 18 in the U.S. In other words, while our population is younger, we are aging faster. This organization also confirms that our U.S. Latino population continues to rise, accounting for 18.9% of our nation’s population. What goes hand in hand with our population growth is the language we speak: Spanish. This is evident when looking at job listings: the demand for bilingual skills. However, on the macro-level, such bilingualism has shined on the big screen (specifically in the two films previously announced) as well as other pop culture mediums. 

For example, this year, Spotify introduced its first bilingual podcast, ‘La Cabina Telefónica’ (‘The Telephone Booth’). As described by the Spotify website, For the Record, “Each episode features a seven-minute phone call between a neighbor and someone important in their life. In those calls, we experience the triumph, pain, and laughter of a diverse group of Latino immigrants in 1990s New York.” These phone calls include the transitions between languages, which is what many of us feel even today (and have felt for a long time).

3) We have a new coin with a Latina. This summer, Jovita Idár, a Mexican-American journalist, teacher, and civil rights activist from Laredo, Texas, was featured on U.S. quarters. According to the U.S. Mint website, circulation of this unique quarter began circulation on Aug. 14, 2023. It features her face and the words “Mexican American,” “Teacher,” and “Journalist.” Furthermore, this marks the ninth coin in the American Women Quarters series, which began last year. 

4) We continue to politically advocate for our rights. Xenophobia is rampant in our country. For that reason, our fight for equality and more continues. One group in particular, the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC), celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. As noted by Sabrina Cervantes, the first openly LGBTQ woman to Chair the CLLC, “When I think about the last 50 years, I think about justice, I think about representation, where we’re fighting for economic justice, we’re fighting for environmental justice, housing affordability, health care access for our most vulnerable, our undocumented community.”

5) A national Latino Museum is in development. This summer, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino inaugurated the Molina Family Latino Gallery with its first exhibition, “¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States.” This gallery is just the beginning since it will take 10 to 12 years to open this particular museum building, according to the museum’s official website. And it’s not only this museum foreshadowing that is worth noting: Eduardo Díaz, acting deputy director of the National Museum of the American Latino, posited the following: “It was 25 years ago that the Smithsonian founded the Latino Center to increase Latino representation across the Institution, which also helped pave the way for the Latino Museum.” While it may be argued that such a museum should’ve been established a long time ago, we can observe its potential and promise.

To conclude, this heritage month symbolizes so much. Whether 2023 has been good to you or not, let’s hope you can at least recognize the strides that we have accomplished this year. 

Dr. Clariza Ruiz De Castilla is a faculty member in both the Chicano Studies and Communication Studies Departments at CSULB. She has been at the Beach since 2014 and has nearly 20 years of teaching experience...