Every year, from September 15 to October 15, the United States celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month in an effort to honor the histories, traditions, and contributions of Latinos to this country. However, this month has been utilized as a spectacle to mask the continued history of policies aimed at weakening the Hispanic impact and integrating cultural diversity into one standardized American identity. During this month, various aspects of Latino culture, such as music, food, and dance, are put on display while important issues are cast aside.

As Latinos escalate in power and influence in the United States, it becomes necessary to examine the complex nature of Latino culture and identity. Even within the Latino culture, there exists a multitude of linguistic, political, social, economic, and religious diversity. The Latino population represents over twenty countries with varying traditions, customs, and personal backgrounds. Due to their unique historical paths, their distinct backgrounds, and their personal immigrant experiences, the Latino population has a great deal to contribute in the creation of a vibrant American cultural heritage. However, the melting-pot theory contends that people from diverse backgrounds must erase their differences to enjoy full participation, because homogeneity is valued as the foundation of political stability and economic success.

In his book, Culture and Truth, Renato Rosaldo argues that, in the United States, “full citizenship and cultural visibility appear to be inversely related. When one increases, the other decreases. Full citizens lack culture, and those mostly culturally endowed lack full citizenship.” In this scenario, individuals must choose to either pledge allegiance to their sense of identity or their country. This is seen in virtually every minority group in the United States, including other racial, religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities. Throughout history, the state has created opposing types of belonging; either one is loyal to nation or to cultural identity. The two can never coexist.

To become part of the national community, an individual must accept new terms of identity and undergo the process of assimilation. In order to become fully assimilated into the American culture, one must learn and relate to others in the English language. Those who choose to preserve their own linguistic and cultural diversity are seen as indirectly threatening American national unity.

However, full assimilation never guarantees equality of opportunity. Today, the Hispanic community is plagued by high unemployment rates that threaten their economic stability and social advancement. The War on Drugs imprisons thousands of Hispanics yearly, contributing to the destruction of communities across the country. Moreover, poverty and a lack of education keep individuals from achieving their maximum potential. Unjust immigration policies restrict a person’s individual liberty, freedom of mobility, and economic opportunities. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act severely restrict health and nutritional services available to immigrant children, basic guarantees of due process and fairness, the reunification of families, and protection for refugee immigrants. Finally, the wall built along the US-Mexican border physically symbolizes exclusion, racism, and injustice. It marks some as “other,” preventing certain individuals from contributing to American progress and cultural diversity.

Now, more than ever, the Latino factor is important to advancing the cause of liberty in the United States. Specifically, Latino immigrants have roots in lands where the government suppresses all independent thought; many have had to pull themselves up from their bootstraps and begin again in a new country; all have aspirations to climb the socioeconomic ladder and most desire to participate in creating a better world. To me, this image resonates with the need for more individual liberty and economic opportunity.

Census data shows that Latinos are the nation’s fastest growing and largest minority population, and are becoming critical in the political realm, innovative strategies, and popular culture. There has been no better time to embrace the Hispanic heritage and channel cultural diversity into the movement for liberty.