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December 19, 2008
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Column by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller
Today's Catholic Digital Edition

Hispanic Heritage Month: Questions that challenge us

By Mario J. Paredes

The Ephemerides
Starting 40 years ago, since 1968, and by presidential decree, the annual celebration of one month dedicated to the exaltation and recognition of the Hispanic Heritage in the United States of America was established. The beginning of the festivity coincides with the celebration of Independence in Mexico and other Central American nations, in mid September; and ends with the celebration of the meeting of the two worlds in mid-October. 

Quantity or quality?
According to official reports from July 2007 the Hispanic population in the United States has increased by 1.4 million. This means, that at present time there are 45.5 million Hispanics (or people of Hispanic origin) residing in this nation. We are dealing with a spiraling demographic increase which has placed us as the largest ethnic minority living in the United States. Elementary logic would allow us to suppose that if we are the majority, then our influence in this society should be a lot greater. The statistics may help, but they can also serve to distract us. The truth is that in spite of the evidence and number of Hispanics in this nation, the nucleus that governs the political and economic power, which makes the legal decisions remains in control of the destiny of the United States, as they had for the last century.

What should we say about this celebration of the Hispanic heritage at a time in history where immigrants, especially Hispanic immigrants, have been made into the excuse to hide the real cause of the moral, political, economic and social crisis we are going through?  What should we say during this month of the Hispanic Heritage in a nation that, on one side draws itself as the defender of individual liberties in the world, and as the “Patria de Libertad” (“Land of Liberty”), which welcomes everyone; while hypocritically building walls, exploiting, disparaging, mistreating and pursuing those who have always raised and made posible -- with their sweat, hard work, renunciation and sacrifice -- the greatness and strength of this nation?

All this indicates that we, Hispanics, cannot be satisfied nor boast of the millions present in the United States: the numbers and statistics are not enough. We need to overcome the syndrome of quantity with the effectiveness of a Hispanic presence which wins, simultaneously, in quality.

Some questions, some challenges . . .
In the political arena . . .

In January 2007, NALEO had 5,129 Hispanics elected for positions in representation and government. This number is very low if we take into account that many of these positions are simple popular and community representation in such entities as School Boards, etc.  . . .  But the true number of Hispanics present in the United States Congress is only 28, and Hispanic Senators only 3; the number of state governors is only 2, and city mayors, 12.

This is an election year!  What can we say now, when Hispanics have the weight to tilt the scale of political power in the United States? Politicians will have to understand that, with the needs and aspirations of the Hispanic community present in this nation, and in the shadow of our earned progress and participation, it will take more than greetings and flirting in Spanish to earn our backing.

For decades the north American politicians have used and abused the Hispanic electorate using their strength in numbers to jump to the parliamentary arena without making much effort so that our presence may have some significance and relevance in this nation. On our side, the lack of solidarity, formation, unification, organization and of leaders to defend the most valuable aspects of our Hispanic heritage have allowed that the community be mocked and disregarded.

The month of the Hispanic Heritage is a unique opportunity to create conscience of our present political importance and of our urgent need to actively participate in the electoral struggle, where the future of the nation –and our future within it -- is decided.

In the religious and moral aspects . . .
The full Hispanic community comes from people whose origin, history and identity as nations are permeated and marked by the Iberian Catholicism, and through it by the Christian vision of the world and of man. In this vision, human beings, the individual, the person has the dignity of a child of God, and this dignity puts him/her over any structure or circumstance.

From this Hispanic identity, permeated by the Catholic and the Christian ideals, come the best of our heritage and of our values: the joy of giving, the value of family, of human relations, of “fiesta,” of music, of an open table, of service to the stranger. And these values, our very own and therefore very different from other people, should not distance or separate us. In fact, they should allow us to unite so they can enrich and construct a common future, propitious to all.

The “Catholic” Church in the United States should become “Madre y Maestra” (Mother and Teacher) among and for all its children: those who are scattered throughout the world and those who come to this nation. As in no other nation, in the United States, the Church has the opportunity and the historic responsibility to show –in many ways and expressions -- its “catholicity,” that is its “universality,” welcoming all, promoting all, comforting all, open to all so it can always unfailingly be the Church of Jesus Christ, where all are recognized as brothers, children of the same Father.

But what can be said in the celebration of the Hispanic heritage when the Hispanics, who are mostly Catholics, live their faith as a socio/cultural fact, almost as folklore or an anecdote; where the principles of the Gospel do not affect the criteria and values by which they forge their personal histories and community behavior?

‘Commercial’ versus ‘Human’
 From a wide Christian vision of the world and of life our attention is attracted by the easiness with which accords and international treaties for free commerce are signed for goods and services of all kinds. These international treaties allow free traffic and access to the agreed products. At the same time, walls are built and treaties are reaffirmed to impose migration impediments which stop access to better living conditions for people. We ask ourselves: Are things more important than people?  Are consumer goods more important than human beings?
 
Our first priority: To instruct, to educate, to prepare ourselves . . .
The above questions challenge us toward a better future: more prosperous, just, solitary, humane and Christian.

A dialog in North American society with the dominant culture, and in conditions of equality, urges Hispanics to go back to the understanding of our historic past, to the study and appreciation of our origins as a people and as Hispano-American nations.  For example, our history of heroic deeds for liberty and independence were under the leadership of great men accompanied by great values.

The needed changes that will bring to fruition and reality our greatest aspirations will come true only through family formation and education, and by academic instruction which in all fields of knowledge we develop in the present.

In conclusion
Beyond this, it is of utmost importance to improve (not to transplant here) the individuality of our origins, since our aim here should be, first, to build “hispanicity,” while preserving -- for example and as understood -- the “mexicanidad” or the “colombianidad.”  

The complexity of the present historical moment, the social difficulties at an international level, the national crisis, and the crisis in which our own people and countries and nations of origin are immersed, defy us. The Hispanic community present in this nation, with its rich historical, social, cultural and religious inheritance has to answer the demands of this historical juncture with the needed wisdom and greatness.

Not to answer adequately the questions and challenges here exposed, will delay and impede the new and always renewed presence of the Hispanic community in the United States, with implications at continental and worldwide levels.
 
Mario J. Paredes is president of the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders. To see Mario's blog visit http://mariojparedesen.blogspot.com or en español: http://mariojparedes.blogspot.com.


 

 



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