We all deserve to be celebrated for our full, unique identities. Where our people come from, the languages we speak, what we believe, and how we present ourselves in the world are just a few of the elements that make up who we are. And, as much as our roots may ground our identities, our understanding of family, the choices we make, and our ability to learn about ourselves mean that identity is always evolving. So when we commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month–with festivals, food, music, and art–we are lifting up not just one culture, but many, which include countless traditions, observances, rituals, and recipes. (Check out this video clip about the diversity of Latine identities from an exhibit at the National Museum of the American Latino.)
Even the words used to mark our celebrations–Hispanic and Latino–can be controversial. Many people who might check those demographic boxes on a form don’t use those terms to describe themselves, but others do. Language is constantly evolving, and DC Action now uses the term Latine to describe people with Latin American heritage. Because Spanish is a gendered language, there has been a call to create a gender-neutral word to be inclusive of non-binary and gender-expansive individuals. We have previously used Latinx to meet this need, but, as we learned that Latinx is an American term while Latine was born in Latin America, we made the shift.
Nearly a million Latine people live in the DC area (more than 60.6 million Latine people live in the US). The District itself is home to 79,000 Latine residents, who make up 12% of our population. Some families arrived recently and some have been here for generations. Some come from rural or urban areas in dozens of different countries and some are born in the US. The majority of Latines in the DMV have roots in Central and South America. Our region includes the largest Bolivian population, the second largest Salvadoran population, and the third largest Guatemalan population in the country. Salvadorans are the largest Latine group in the region.
Jorge Membreño, DC Action’s new Director of Youth Advocacy, counts himself as one. “As the proud son of Salvadoran immigrants, I witnessed the impact of investments in my community. I'm a product of my parents' sacrifices, afterschool programming, social service support, and a strong ESL program."
That’s why it’s important to honor Latine heritage–and promote a strong Latine future–all year long. We recommend reading these books by Latine authors, written for kids and adults of all ages. A study by UnidosUS and the Johns Hopkins School of Education explained that, “Recent years have brought increased awareness that students learn best when they see themselves reflected in curricular materials and classroom instruction. Learning about the experiences and contributions of diverse groups of people has pronounced benefits for all students, as well.”
While graduation rates for Latine young people and family income for Latine families in DC currently lag behind those of white students and families, DC Action is working with and on behalf of our Latine siblings to change that. Our Under 3 DC campaign focuses on building the most equitable early childhood system in the nation–one that includes meaningful recognition of our Latine early childhood educators. We collaborate with our dedicated teachers and caregivers to fight for fair compensation and to help them advocate for themselves and their community. We lead the DC Home Visiting Council, which works to expand and support home visiting programs that provide transformative guidance and resources for expectant parents and young children, and advocating for better pay for home visitors.
While the official recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month in the District is wrapping up this weekend, we invite you to join us by committing to learn about, lift up, and celebrate the diverse identities of Latine people all year long.