Reflections on Hispanic Heritage Month

the disCOurse is a place for people to share their lived experiences and their perspectives on the past with an eye toward informing our present. Here, as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, a young Chicana wonders why we only celebrate Hispanic heritage for one month out of the year.

In all honesty, Hispanic Heritage Month does not mean a whole lot to me. It is not as if my high school did anything special in that month. I mean, it is not even a month. It is split between two, which always seemed weird to me. My culture might not have been a subject in high school, unless it was “fiesta day” in Spanish class, but that does not mean I was uneducated in the accomplishments of my ancestors.

Raised by a daughter of activists and a son of Denver’s West Side, I was versed in Chicano culture; it was my second language. It felt so natural that it surprised me when my friends did not know the stories and symbolism of my ancestors. My house was filled with Chicano art, and my family connected to a community so big, I never really understood who was blood and who was not. 

Shanea (third from left) with her extended family, including her grandmother Priscilla in the center. 

Shanea (third from left) with her extended family, including her grandmother Priscilla Salazar in the center. 

Shanea Ewing

Yet, I assimilated into mainstream America. Of course, not perfectly—I am still not white nor look white. And yeah, we eat enchiladas at Thanksgiving, but I always saw myself as American first. I do not speak Spanish. I grew up in Lakewood, a majority white suburb. My friends were white. I was mainstream. But the thing is, I’m not really mainstream.

It is an exciting thing to meet people who are similar to you. I am lucky enough to work with another Chicano who is my age. We both grew up in Colorado, although he is from the San Luis Valley and not the Denver Metro Area like me. When we chatted about our childhood and realized our similarities, it was like I was finally seen. These similarities were not big, either. They were small, like we both love biscochitos. We also did not have to explain what biscochitos were to each other—a traditional New Mexican cookie made with anise and cinnamon sugar. We both endearingly referred to ourselves as beaners—a term we have reclaimed and proudly wear. It felt empowering to have another Chicano in the workplace, and in a historically white workplace to boot. 

Shanea's Family

From left to right, Evania (sister), Shanea, and Jolyn (mother). 

Shanea Ewing

So, to put all my identity into a month seems unworthy. I am Chicana/Hispanic/Latina 365 days a year. I grew up knowing that my identity and culture were important and beautiful. I grew up with artists, historians, activists, and West-Siders. I had a whole community to show me how to be proud of who I am. And you know what? They are still here, and they are still doing the work so that other Chicano children can be proud of themselves too.

Hispanic Heritage Month is just fiesta day in Spanish class, and after it is done, I go home and continue living the life of a Chicana. I continue the legacy after September 15 through October 15. My culture is much bigger than a month, and even though I am glad we highlight Hispanic heritage, it is not enough, because I never get to stop being Chicana. My life is more than one month and my culture has shaped history too. Heritage months are outdated, and it is time that our stories made it to the mainstream. Viva la raza!

Shanea with Priscilla Salazar (grandmother) at her graduation ceremony

Shanea with Priscilla Salazar (grandmother) at her graduation ceremony

Shanea Ewing