Latinos make their voices heard during Hispanic Heritage month

Days after dumping DACA, President Trump signs off on national Latino celebration

Andrea Vargas with the Chinelos Mexico dance folkloric group showcasing a traditional Catrina outfit from the Mexican state of Morelos on Sept. 15, 2017 during the Fiesta DC parade. Credit: Kristian Hernandez
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Constitution Avenue raved in a sea of color and festive music as thousands of Hispanics representing seven Latin American countries came together to kick off National Hispanic Heritage month.

Diablito de Espejo dancers from the Panama folkloric group Nuevo Mileño based in Brooklyn on Sept. 15, 2017 during the Fiesta DC parade. Credit: Kristian Hernandez

For 49 years Latinos and Latinas across the U.S. have celebrated their heritage from September 15 to October 15. This national holiday starts on the same day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate their independence. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Columbus Day or Día de la Raza also falls within this 30-day period.

“This is a celebration of our culture and our people,” said Washington D.C.’s General Consul for El Salvador Ena Ursula-Peña. “We are here to show everyone that each one of these countries has their own identity and their own heritage.”

“Things won’t change until we have a place at the table where these decisions are made,” said Consul Ursula-Peña. “These children of immigrants will grow up to fill those places and make a difference.”

Hundreds of people lined both sides of the street for seven blocks as a parade of performers from all over the Americas brought their artistic traditions to life through music and dance. Carlos Ernesto Gonzalez and his wife Jimena Visurraga wore El Salvador national soccer team jerseys and waved their country’s flag as they watched the festivities.

“We are happy to be here in the U.S. because it’s the land of opportunity, but it’s important for us to stick together and be proud of where we came from,” said Gonzalez in Spanish. “Right now, more than ever, it’s important for us to make our voices heard and this is the kind of place where we can do that.”

Gonzalez was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. six years ago. In that time, he said he’s seen many of his people shy away from participating in events like the two-day annual Fiesta D.C., which starts with this parade. He said many undocumented people continue to live in fear of possible run-ins with law enforcement that may result in their deportation.

A float reading “My profession at your service,” full of school children from Maryland’s Regional Alliance of Students and Professionals on Sept. 15, 2017 during the Fiesta DC parade. Credit: Kristian Hernandez

In a February memo, the head of ICE encouraged all of the department’s 5,700 deportation officers to question the legal status of anyone they encountered. In Texas, lawmakers passed a law banning sanctuary cities and encouraging police to act as federal immigration agents. The bill allowed every officer in the state to ask people they detained for proof of legal residency.

Many immigration advocacy groups, including Maryland’s Regional Alliance of Students and Professionals, have countered these attacks on the Latino community by hosting know-your-rights campaigns and creating alliances with other community outreach groups in the DMV area.

Olga Noriega, the executive director of the church led non-profit, said it was important for the alliance to participate in the Sept. 15 parade because no one will empower the Latino community if they do not do it themselves.

“We are here to show everyone that we are proud,” Noriega said in Spanish as she stood behind a large blue float carrying some 15 young children from their afterschool program. “These kids have dreams, just like all other kids, and people need to see that.”

A student from Maryland’s Regional Alliance of Students and Professionals on Sept. 15, 2017 during the Fiesta DC parade. Credit: Kristian Hernandez

On Sept. 13 President Trump proclaimed Hispanic Heritage Month, eight days after eliminating Obama’s Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA which protected some 800,000 undocumented school children, or former students from deportation.

One little girl at the parade waved a sign that read, “I want to be doctor,” while a boy next to her held a sign that read in Spanish, “We are the path and the example.”

“Things won’t change until we have a place at the table where these decisions are made,” said Consul Ursula-Peña. “These children of immigrants will grow up to fill those places and make a difference.”

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