October marks the beginning of Canadian Latin American Heritage Month. First proclaimed on June 21, 2018, the Month is “an opportunity for Canadians to recognize the valuable contribution of members of the Latin American community to this country’s social, economic, political, and cultural fabric.” Although the diaspora is not as large as in the United States, sizeable Latinx communities exist in various cities including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton, steadily increasing since the first wave of immigration began in the 1970s.
Similarly, Latinx heritage is currently being celebrated in the United States as well. Begun as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, it was later extended to Latinx Heritage Month, scheduled for September 15 to October 15. This time of the year also commemorates independence from Spain for several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua on September 15, followed by Mexico’s Independence Day on September 16, and Chile’s on September 18.
Creating New Narratives
As non-Latinx, I was initially hesitant to write about the history of this month, as well as to centre my ideological framework in narratives that are not mine to tell, an issue that has been increasingly debated in the academic sphere in the spirit of decolonization. I believe that individuals and communities need to create their own narratives, in part, because this has affected me personally.
Over the years, I have read countless historical texts, as well as literature, about my own community from outsider perspectives. Although many come from a place of supposed expertise, these stories are told from a particular lens, or perspective, bypassing the nuances, as well as the essence—the very soul—of what a culture truly entails. No matter how ingrained in academic research or as a guest in these spaces, those from outside the community can never truly understand the core of a culture passed down from one generation to the next through culinary traditions, through artistic creation, through ever-evolving language, and in many cases, through collective trauma.
My Connection to the Region
That said, in the end, I chose to write about this month not from any presumption of authority or expertise, but from a place of gratitude. My personal ties to the region—as a Polish-born, ethnically Ukrainian, Canadian citizen—are a bit complicated, but I am now forever connected to it after a series of unfortunate events made it my home. Finding myself back in Toronto after a decade of travel in the area, I increasingly struggle to reconcile the very ability to travel freely with the passport privilege afforded by Canadian citizenship, my adopted country’s violent and extractive policies, as well as the unequal power dynamics created by the Global North presence in the Global South. For those who choose to travel to the region, an increased focus on local communities without creating displacement and increased economic disparity, as well as the possibility of sustainability and leaving minimal trace is a start, but there needs to be a focus on what is currently occurring in our home communities as well.
Although the region has long been affected by Canadian and US governmental foreign policies, in the current racist and xenophobic political climate, atrocities against Latinx communities have increased. In the US, separation of families, deportations, and threats to protective legislation have become expected. In Canada, Latinx communities continue to face a great deal of struggle, especially during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, including those who work in the migrant agricultural sector under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) in southern Ontario and the Okanagan Valley.
Whatever the future holds, I remain grateful for friends who became family, who have welcomed me into their communities, lovingly taught me their recipes, shared their stories, and graciously taught me their language. The following list is in no way an attempt to be comprehensive; it is simply based on my personal outsider experience and, in a way, is an homage to the cultures and regions that continually selflessly give, while continuing to face inequity and treatment as Other.
Notable Latinx Individuals and Organizations
Although Canadians may be more aware of US-based Latinx individuals, such as labour leaders, activists, and co-founders of the National Farmworkers Association (now the United Farm Workers) Dolores Huerta and César Chávez, as well as writers, such as Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz, and celebrities, like Shakira and Nicky Jam, an extensive Canadian Latinx community exists as well. Some examples of notable Latinx Canadians include Chilean-born writer, educator, and activist Gabriela Etcheverry and Mexican-born cinematographer Bruce Chun. Other examples include Estefania Cortes-Vargas, the first Colombian-Canadian, and Ricardo Miranda, the first Nicaraguan-Canadian elected to Alberta’s Legislature. Cortes-Vargas and Miranda were also two of the first of three openly queer politicians elected to Legislature under the NDP in 2015. Various Latinx organizations can also be found Canada-wide, including Vancouver’s Canadian Latinx Theatre Artist Coalition, which advocates for and celebrates Latinx theatre, and the Greater Toronto Area’s Hispanic Canadian Arts and Cultural Association, a non-profit dedicated to supporting local artists.
For those who would like to support the Canadian Latinx community, including the many small businesses struggling during this COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto’s Plaza Latina is a great way to sample a variety of foods. Located in a strip mall in the northern part of the city, Plaza Latina features a food court with stalls from a several Latin American countries, including Colombia, Argentina, El Salvador, and Peru. Some go-to’s include the pupusas de loroco con curtido and tamales de elote at Pupuseria El Buen Sabor, the empanadas at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano, as well as the Mexican posole and tacos de birria available as well. Other great options include Toronto’s La Bella Managua and Tacos el Asador and the West Coast’s La Pupueseria in Langley, British Columbia.
Some great books for a historical background of the region include Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America by Todd Gordon, which explains Canadian mining involvement, An African-American & Latinx History of the U.S by Paul Ortiz, for a US-centric view, and Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano for a focus on the region itself. For more personal narratives, I recommend Native Country of My Heart by Chicana author Cherríe Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, and Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa. For fictional works, including some standouts from the Latin American Boom, consider Argentinian Manuel Puig’s The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, and Guatemalan Miguel Ángel Asturias’ The President. For a DIY perspective, MuchachaFanzine is dedicated to “promoting social consciousness and decolonizing minds.”
On-screen, some popular Latinx choices include telenovelas, such as Corazón Salvaje and La Casa De Las Flores, documentaries like 1994, and films, such as Roma, Tesoros, and Like Water for Chocolate.
Some examples of famed Latinx artists include Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco, who led Mexico’s mural revival in the 1920s, fellow muralists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as Frida Kahlo, whose famed portraits and self-portraits remain in popular culture to this day. Other notable examples include Cuban Ana Mendieta’s multidisciplinary works, Argentina’s Antonio Berni’s social realism of the impoverished villas, and Victoria Santa Cruz, an Afro-Peruvian dramatist, choreographer, composer, and educator. For those who would like a perspective outside of the mainstream, various artistic collectives, such as NYC’s Mujeristas Collective, focus on Latinx women writings and art. In Canada specifically, check out Bolivian-Canadian photographer, sculptor, and neurosurgeon Ivar Mendez.
Latinx Community Care
In this current political climate, various Canadian organizations work tirelessly to support and uplift Latinx communities, including the Migrant Rights Network and Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW). Internationally, some examples of organizations to support include Raices Texas: The Refugee and Immigrant Centre for Education and Legal Services, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a trans-border organization aiding along migrant routes, and Al Otro Lado, a social justice legal services serving migrants, refugees, and deportees.
For students who would like to learn more consider GLST 308: Americas: An Introduction to Latin America and the Caribbean, which details independence movements, US foreign policy in the region, as well as Indigenous movements for social change. In addition, information about AU’s initiatives and research into migrant workers in Alberta can be seen here.