When Hispanic Heritage Month Is a Time to Grieve

The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes tell us there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance." But what about those moments when tears interrupt a season of laughter? When it's time to dance but your body is paralyzed in a state of mourning?

You see, September 15th marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a time, according to the official government website, to honor the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. In our cultural imaginary, this month is set apart for Puebla dresses and pupusas, bachata dances at outdoor festivals, and companies like CoffeeMate telling us two "hot new Latins" are better than one. For thirty days, we are made to believe we are appreciated and we are told we belong.

For me, Hispanic Heritage Month resurrects the trauma of a childhood cut short by immigration; it evokes memories in a homeland that weren't allowed to form, friendships and family I was forced to abandon. During this month, I grieve for the woman I might've been, the version of me that immigration stole away. I grieve for the language I lost, the Spanish that now feels foreign and uncomfortable on my tongue. I cry when I dwell on the few tender moments I spent with my cousins, people who are now as distant as the place I used to call home. I shut down when someone asks me what area of Buenos Aires I'm from, hurt that I don't know the landscape of my city, that I can't name a single street or avenue in my motherland. You see, a month to celebrate Hispanic heritage reminds me of the heritage I've been denied.

I know I am not the only one who has lost and so I grieve the "histories, cultures, and contributions" of silenced, erased brown bodies, the ones who perish in the desert, the ones who are willing to lose it all to "make it in America" only to meet Trump's brand of hatred once they arrive. I grieve because, during this month, I hear Celia Cruz playing loudly in public and I know la vida is not a carnaval. I can't help but cry during this "festive" season because I know Latinas are disproportionately affected by the prison industrial complex, because detention facilities profit from the dreams of Latinx migrants, because when trans Latinas speak out against their oppression they are booed and silenced, because thousands of Latinx have died anonymously and alone in their attempt to escape violence, poverty, and persecution, because the ones who make it to the "promised land" are demonized, criminalized, and pushed to the margins of U.S. society. You see, this month, is not about mariachi and margaritas at all.

This month I mourn what I lost. The wounds have not healed yet; I am still raw and I am still bleeding. Perhaps the fact that this month coincides with the annual ushering in of the fall season eggs on this sadness, the sight of leaves falling and losing their place in the world a symbol of my immigrant experience. While it is true that the Latinx experience is not all loss, and I am inspired by the resilience and creativity of fellow Latinxs, of the 100 women walking 100 miles to draw attention to the plight of migrants, of detained migrants who turn trauma into art, of everyday people who resolve to live fully even as they are trapped in the lion's den, let us not discount grief or what Jose Esteban Muñoz calls "brown feeling." Feeling down and embracing mourning and melancholia has value and a place in our community. A legacy of loss may have been imposed on us but our heritage lies in the fact that no matter how they tried to erase, break, and bury us, like the Mexican proverb says, we are seeds. And our seeds cannot grow without tears. Tears that are part water, part soul.