National Hispanic Heritage Month: Paying Attention

Sep 18, 2022

As we in the United States kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month, I dedicate this diversity article to September 15 to October 15, 2022.

 A 2021 Today Show episode referred to this commemoration as celebrating the contributions of the second largest ethnic group in the United States. This celebration started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, in the middle of the civil rights movement. It remained Hispanic Heritage Week under presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan who gave annual proclamations between 1969 and 1988. It was expanded to a month under President Reagan who did not choose September 15 arbitrarily; instead, it is the Independence Anniversary for many Latin American Countries.  In 1989, President George H.W. Bush first proclaimed it National Hispanic Heritage Month. Since 1989, all presidents have signed a Presidential Proclamation to mark National Hispanic Heritage Month.

 After reflection and research, I decided to share a quote from Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic female justice on the Supreme Court. "We have to look and ensure that we're paying attention to what we're doing so that we don't reflexively institute processes and procedures that exclude people without thought." This quote reminds me—amid the current chaos—of my purpose because it inherently represents a goal that I/we must keep at the forefront of our work. Judge Sotomayor challenges us with the first word by stressing that "we" must look. As Judge Sotomayor instructs, looking can't be accomplished with individualistic efforts but must include our combined efforts. Ensuring while looking is the next challenge. Have we taken a moment to ensure the things we are looking into are the things we should be pursuing? Are we paying attention when we look to see who is not included in the conversation, in the selection, in the room, and in the decision?

 Since the death of George Floyd, we have become consumed with looking. Looking at the process, looking at the procedure, looking at the lack of processes, and looking at the lack of procedures is our new normal. But how closely are we paying attention to the things that matter? Recently, I was in a meeting, and a senior executive said that the number of women hired in our organization hasn't changed in twenty years. Shock, anger, frustration, and sadness framed my response. Should I have been shocked, angry, frustrated, or sad? No, I was part of the number that wasn't looking to ensure that we were paying attention to the things that mattered. I have taken pride in my advocacy work in the past, but I felt this as a moment of awakening to a new perspective.

Did I ensure that the processes and procedures excluded people without thought? What did I miss? What did we forget as we continued down this path of inclusivity? What are we missing if our organizations are not where they should be? My foundation in the intercultural field is accountability. Who's accountable when we look at numbers that haven't changed in twenty years? Who's accountable? We are all responsible. We have failed when we weren't looking while processes and procedures were implemented that reflexively followed the norm and excluded others. Yes, the methods may have helped some, but in the process, excluded others. Excuses aren't sufficient for the lack of change. But intentional accountability is a solution to the lack of change. Reflection is a way to look back and look around to see all the moving parts that contributed to a situation. It is important that each of us look at all the details and honestly attempt to locate any parts that exclude others without thought. The 'without thought' consideration may be difficult.

Implementing processes and procedures without thought to other humans is possible. It most definitely is possible. As I read the news this week about some states flying newly arrived people and families from our borders to sanctuary cities, I asked myself, what were the process and procedures that allowed this practice? Then I reframed the question. If the processes and procedures were considered, then could it be that there may be another place that understood the needs of the people? This other place not only understood the needs but was intentionally willing to help. I am making it my goal to ask about the process and strategies we make without considering the individuals experiencing the process. We must ensure that we pay attention to all that is happening around us. Interculturalist need to look to ensure we are paying attention even if the rest of the world pretends not to see that some of the processes and procedures exclude people without a thought.   

“WilletteWillette Neal, Director
Membership Outreach and Diversity