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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Hispanic Heritage Month promised to showcase Hispanics. It failed.

Mercifully, this concludes Hispanic Heritage Month.

The United States is home to 62 million Hispanics, representing nearly 1 in 5 Americans. And — according to the Migration Policy Institute — as many as 44 percent of U.S. Hispanics are foreign-born.

My wife — who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States legally as a child — falls into that category. I don’t. Through no heroic effort on my part, I was born in the United States, as were both of my parents and three of my four grandparents.

I have a hunch that, for the vast majority of Hispanics like my wife — who have their roots elsewhere — Hispanic Heritage Month is no big deal.

Because they’re immigrants, they probably couldn’t celebrate anyway. They’re too busy working. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 44.8 percent of the Hispanics currently in the labor force are foreign-born.

The designation has been on the books since Sept. 14, 1989, when President George H.W. Bush established Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The idea was for Americans to reflect upon the many cultural, historical and societal contributions of Hispanic Americans.

That tribe is made up of a ton of distant cousins whose ancestry dates back to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, the Dominican Republic and more than a dozen other Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Until recently, as a Mexican American, I used to look forward to this time of year. It was a time when media companies, major corporations and political parties broke out of their stifling black-and-white paradigm — if only for a few weeks — and took note of my people. I saw value in that.

Not anymore. For me, the concept of Hispanic Heritage Month has played itself out. It has become trite, predictable and commercialized. I’m not the only one who thinks so. A fellow Mexican American and I are planning a new podcast, and she insisted that we not launch it between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. Too cheesy, she said.

It also irks me that many of the same institutions that celebrate Hispanics for 30 days will then go on to exclude and ignore us for the next 11 months.

Frankly, it feels like Hispanic Heritage Month was built by white people for native-born U.S. Hispanics such as me. We’re the ones who, saddled with cultural insecurities, crave respect and acknowledgment.

Hispanic immigrants must look at all this and conclude that those of us who are U.S.-born need to spend time on a couch.

They don’t ask for accommodations. They come to work hard, provide their kids with better tomorrows and give back to a country that took them in.

Don’t believe that garbage you hear from white conservatives on the cultural right, who get fired up about immigration but don’t know much about it. How could they? From the sound of it, they often don’t talk to actual immigrants, only to one another about immigrants.

For instance, these culture cops insist that Mexican immigrants come here and refuse to assimilate. What they really mean to say is that, from their vantage point, immigrants don’t make it a priority to be carbon copies of other Americans.

Fair enough. But immigrants aren’t fighting to hold onto their culture and language. They’re fighting not to pick up bad habits from Americans.

Like a weak work ethic. It’s absurd that America is so desperate to keep out Haitians, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans who want to work, while simultaneously pleading with native-born Americans to return to work now that the COVID pandemic has waned a bit.

Or family ties that aren’t much stronger. The family dinner hour is a relic of a bygone era. And when we do sit down together, everyone whips out a smartphone. Eavesdropping on neighborhood list-servs, I see I’m not the only parent who was glad to have his teenagers return to school after being locked up for 18 months with them — and their mood swings.

In the immigration debate, we have it upside down. There may not be all that much that native-born Americans can teach immigrants, but there is still quite a bit that immigrants can teach the native-born.

Let’s celebrate that reality. Not just for one month, but year-round.

Contact Ruben Navarrette at crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.


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