Activist: Hispanic Heritage Month is Not Inclusive


Devin Oommen

Slide from Can’t Stop Our Blackness presenation

Devin Oommen, Staff Writer

Since 1988 the United States has formally recognized Hispanic Heritage Month. In an online session on Oct. 7 titled “Can’t Stop Our Blackness: Black Latinx Narratives And Resisting Erasure,” activist and scholar Rosa Clemente voiced that the label is not representative of all the people intended to be included under it.  

“We also need to say that this month does not represent us,” Clemente said. “Hispanic means descendant of Spain. I am not a descendant of Spain, nor do I want to be one.”

Now a doctoral student at the W.E.B DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Clemente said she first heard the term Afro Latina on the campus of State University of New York when Martha Moreno Vega spoke to the campus.

Moments like this from her time in college led her to find the proper way to label her racial background as a Black Puerto Rican.

Her session, part of COD’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, pointed out examples of anti-blackness and colorism she personally experienced and that she says are purveyed by groups that are Latinx, Afro-Latinx and other cultures, as well by governments and their agencies; one specific case she mentioned was the U.S. Census and its undercounting of minority populations as a result of improper labels for racial groups.  

“What we’re actually seeing right now is not only the erasure, but the marginalization of Afro, Black, Black-Latinx people within Hispanic Heritage Month,” she said.

In her session, Clemente also outlined events such as the sterilization of Puerto Rican women in the mid-to-early 1900s and the origins of the first birth control pill, which was tested on Puerto Rican women in initial trials.

“The more I learned, the angrier I got,” she said.

Clemente also mentioned politically significant moments, such as the assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Hampton, at the time of his assassination, was reportedly uniting groups such as the Black Panthers, Young Lords and other groups under an antiracist, anti-class, multicultural movement called the Rainbow Coalition), colonization of Puerto Rico and American imperialism in Puerto Rico.

In pointing out these moments, Clemente named the mentors and professors she had during her college experience who showed her how to channel and direct her anger to learn more, to organize and to cause change.

Her message to Latinx and Afro-Latinx students was that while getting a degree leads to career opportunities, she hopes they also use their knowledge and experience to continue to help their communities grow and be represented.

In 2008, Clemente was the vice presidential nominee of the Green Party, running alongside former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

The event was hosted as a collaboration between 10 Illinois community colleges.