Opinion: This Hispanic Heritage Month, Uncover Buried Truths

By Gabriela Flores 


   At times, we can confuse the reasons for celebrating holidays. Easter, for instance, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a preacher to some and God’s divine son to others. Here in the States, we’ve made a bunny who defies mammalian anatomy by laying chocolate eggs to become one of the day’s highlights. Or when some of us mistake Cinco de Mayo, a day celebrating the Battle of Puebla when a Mexican army fought against French invaders, for Mexico’s Independence Day. 

      If you’ve seen your nearest Party City decked with green, white, and red during the late days of April, you might have been guilty of this fallacy. But don’t fret. The truth is, there is a complex history that’s hidden about Mexico and that of other Latinx and Spanish-speaking countries. And for someone like me, whose roots could hypothetically be explained by that same buried history, finding answers about my heritage can be difficult. 

   As we know, having ancestors who were colonized and oppressed can lead us to unanswered questions of whose DNA runs through our veins. Sure, we can make assumptions based on the loosely explained lessons we’ve read about the Spanish conquistadors or the Aztec, Inca, or Mayan peoples. But who can definitively know that my genetic makeup, and that of another Latinx or Hispanic person, can be so one-dimensional? 

     My parents, who immigrated here from Puebla decades ago, have made it a habit for me to constantly visit my second home in Tulcingo de Valle, Puebla, a town that some locals call “little New York.” Though we don’t usually make our way to the Mexican city streets, we made an exception during the summer of 2015. We took a road trip exploring Oaxaca’s clear waters and beaches, traveled miles to Alcapulco, and circled back north to Mexico City. There, we got a taste of how different it is to be a Mexican city dweller versus a New York one, and we also got to see the pyramids of Teotihuacan. 

    I was turning 14 at the time, with my skin toasting underneath the beaming sun as I roamed the land. Taking in the history written along the museum walls that stood right outside Teotihuacan, I felt my mind unlock a boarded-up vault. Whether it was the new knowledge that unraveled before me or the fact that I was running on pure traveler’s adrenaline, I can’t confidently say why I couldn’t shake off a lasting feeling that I was meant to be there. But for that moment, as I heard the winds whistling from ear to ear and keenly observed the tool replicas that my predecessors used centuries ago, I felt I was getting somehow closer to discovering more of myself. And if you’re anything like me, who only knows the origins of her immediate family, this stepping stone into the unknown is thrilling. 

   I lurked in every corner of the area and felt chills as I peered into the vast darkness inside each pyramid opening. As I stood on the Pyramid of Sun, I envisioned what it was like to live as my ancestors did – both the pretty and ugly, like human sacrifices. I took in the thick air and salvaged the moment. For a split second, I ironically thought I was finally home – until I got lost in an internal discourse later that day. Because for as much as I pride myself in having Mexican roots and two parents who immigrated here undocumented, I didn’t know the language of those who came before – those who roamed the land and carried their traditions untouched by the colonial world. Instead, I knew at the time and continued to use the tongue of the Spanish colonizer. 14-year-old me didn’t know what to think of myself. 

   I still wrestle today with these questions of how the tongues of my ancestors, their names, and history got lost in the thick of colonial erasure. (And trust me, my thoughts can get way more over dramatic than that.) I occasionally sit in the uncomfortable truth of not knowing who was purposely forgotten for my last name of “Flores” to take center stage. As lovely as it is to have a last name that translates to “flowers,” it saddens me to know I won’t know who I’ve unintentionally forgotten. 

   Growing older, with much sharper research skills, I notice the importance of acknowledging the cultural complexities of Hispanics and Latinx people. As a global community, we extend not only from Mexico but to Brazil, Haiti, and countless other nations that were impacted but not defined by colonization. Our growing population is worth paying attention to and embracing the unknown histories we all collectively ignored one way or another. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my visit to the pyramids is that knowledge of the once-forgotten is necessary and incredibly powerful. Consider taking this month ahead, which intends to commemorate Hispanic and Latinx heritage, as your gateway into unsettling truths.