In the fall of 1965, I was 12 years old and living in Huron, South Dakota.
“Ellen, do you know what a boycott is?” daddy asked.
I shook my head, no.
Dad said, “To make a statement, we are not going to buy grapes or raisins. And that’s a boycott.”
“Why aren’t we going to buy grapes?”
“Because the grape growers are cruel to the farmworkers in California who pick the grapes. The field hands are underpaid, overworked, and live in poverty while we live in comfort. We mustn’t eat food off the backs of poor people. I’m a Farmers Union man, and we will stand in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.”
Later in life, I would find out that Cesar Chavez’s right hand was Dolores Huerta. Without Dolores, the sweeping changes brought about from numerous boycotts and marches she helped organize and lead would never have happened. I am proud to say Dolores is now a friend; I even featured her in my first documentary, “Beauty Bites Beast.”
I sometimes choke up, thinking how proud my parents would be if they knew Ms. Huerta considered me a friend and a colleague. They also would have loved that, in 1994, she agreed to an interview I would then pitch to the LA Times, as I was a regularly published op-ed author there. It would be her take on the virulent anti-immigration Prop 187, a.k.a. “Save Our State,” that was on the ballot that year. I’m sure my parents would’ve been as insulted as I was when the op-ed editor passed on my pitch because she had never heard of Ms. Huerta! After I patiently explained who Dolores was, her importance, and what a “big get” this was, the editor huffed, “well, I’ve never heard of her, and if I haven’t, nobody else has either.”
In the same vein, most of us still aren’t aware that National Hispanic Heritage Month straddles two months every year: September 15 to October 15. Over the years in this column, I have fretted about the invisibility of Women’s History Month in March; however, the mainstream ignores National Hispanic Heritage Month even more!
Why is that? Because they don’t notice that our country is full of people whose first language is Spanish? They don’t know that “Hispanic” covers a broad spectrum of the population? (As of 2020, they are the second-largest ethnic group in the United States and roughly 20% of the world’s population.) Worse, are they oblivious to the significant contributions made by Hispanic people?
I’ll start with people who we depend upon daily: the essential workers, the spine of our lives. The housekeepers and nannies and caregivers. Our housekeeper is so thorough and hard working, I have to insist that she stop. She’s my rock because, as Airbnb SuperHosts, we depend on her.
Then there’s Dolores Huerta, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dolores will never stop using her passion to empower people, especially women and girls, and of course, males. She has used “Si Sé Puede” (roughly, “yes, we can”) as her rallying cry for decades before President Obama “borrowed” it—which he admits.
Oh, and then there’s U. S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the fourth woman and first Hispanic to serve. She is a role model for young women of all backgrounds.
When I was an adjunct instructor at Cal State LA, I taught a class about race and the media. I showed two films every term to uplift many of my students’ Hispanic pride: one was “In the Time of the Butterflies,” about the revolutionary Mirabal sisters who were assassinated by the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Trujillo. The other was “Romero,” about San Salvador’s legendary archbishop Oscar Romero. He was assassinated by the right-wing that dominated San Salvador for years.
These movies flew in the face of how our society has long viewed Hispanics: as lazy, passive, and cowardly citizens of countries somewhere south of the United States. These films shook my students up and reminded them that their heritage deserved major artistic and cultural attention. Incidentally, the “lazy” stereotype was blasted to bits in 2011 with a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It showed that Mexicans are the hardest working people in the world!
In conclusion, if you eat salsa, loved Pixar’s “Coco” and like to eat fresh fruits and veggies, you owe a debt of gratitude to our Hispanic friends and neighbors. At the very least, for this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, how about lifting a glass of wine—made from grapes that are no longer being boycotted—and saying “Muchas Gracias.” I’ll start: ¡Muchas Gracias!
Note: The Rev. Hannah Petrie and I now co-host the English-language POP (Pasadenans Organizing for Progress) podcast. To find it, go to https://radiojornalera.org and click on “Programas de Radio.” Then click on POP Talk!
Hannah and I will also be moderating a forum on three consecutive Fridays with the PUSD Board candidates for districts 2, 4, and 6. October 9 will be the District 4 candidates; October 16, the District 6 candidates; and October 23 for District 2 candidates.
Ellen Snortland has written “Consider This…” for a heckuva long time, and she also coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at Ellen@beautybitesbeast.com.