September 15th marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, created in August 1988. The date was selected in recognition of the independence days shared by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Now commonly referred to as Latino History Month – or the gender-neutral Latinx History Month – this celebration of the culture, history, and people of Latin America, as well as the impact of Latin America and Latin Americans in the United States, continues until October 15th.
Latinxs represent the largest non-white population in the United States, though it’s important to remember that “Latinx” is not a race but rather an ethnic identity. Ethnicity relates to culture, language, faith practices, and historical context. By 2011, D.C. ranked first in the United States for the percentage of foreign-born Latinx at 15 percent. The District also has the second largest El Salvadorean community, second only to Los Angeles.
One local museum is presenting an exhibit that explores Latinx diaspora in the District. In the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum exhibit, “Gateways/Portales,” National Museum of African American History and Culture curator Ariana Curtis explores the Latinx experience in four cities: D.C., Charlotte, Baltimore, and Raleigh-Durham. Acting Anacostia Museum Director Lori B. Yarrish describes “Gateways/Portales” as an “issue-based exhibit,” which focuses on how “community” is defined, the role of education, and how gathering spaces and media create a sense of community and belonging. The bi-lingual exhibit highlights such critical moments in D.C. Latinx history as the 1991 DC Latino Civil Rights Task Force, formed after the 1991 Mt. Pleasant civil unrest, and the 1970 founding of Fiesta DC.
Language is critical in “Gateways/Portales,” as are definitions and context. The exhibit notes that “Hispanic” is a term coined by the U.S. government. Many Latinxs, as well as scholars of Latin America, note that while “Hispanic” narrowly defines Spanish language and heritage, it neglects the multilingual, multiethnic, and multiracial identities within the Latinx diaspora. The exhibit asks: How have Latinxs created community in the United States? How can we learn and share about the rich, vibrant Latinx cultures in the Americas? What does it mean for Latino migrants and immigrants to make a home in a U.S. city? Melding art, history, and objects the exhibit suggests the many different passages and entryways people and communities may take and the contexts in which migration and immigration take place. The exhibit will be on view until January 7, 2018.
 Gateways/Portales. Smithsonian Anacostia Museum, 2016.