Latinos have left an indelible mark on the history of the United States and, with the current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment among some sectors of the population, it is time to "tell their history well" and honor their legacy, Midy Aponte, the interim director of the American Latino Heritage Fund, said Tuesday.
"We're not going to get into politics because that is not my job but, of course, like pounding a drum, we can highlight all the positive things and contributions of Latinos throughout the entire history of the United States, not only at this time but since its founding as a country," the 34-year-old Aponte said in an interview with Efe.
Aponte, a Cuban-American, was appointed in early December to be the interim executive director of the American Latino Heritage Fund, created in 2011 by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with the aim of honoring and preserving "the complete history" of Latinos in the United States.
We're not going to get into politics because that is not my job but, of course, like pounding a drum, we can highlight all the positive things and contributions of Latinos throughout the entire history of the United States, not only at this time but since its founding as a country.
- Midy Aponte, interim executive director of American Latino Heritage Fund
"We're a force that can't be discounted. We have to tell our stories and elevate them, to teach our children about our contributions and never allow them to be silenced," said Aponte, president and CEO of The Sanchez Ricardo Agency, a public relations firm.
As a pioneer in this field, Aponte this year is faced with the enormous task of laying the foundations for the Fund, its proposals and programs, and establishing its alliances with all types of public and private entities. And all this without a cent in funding from the U.S. Congress.
Thus, another of her great challenges at the head of the group will be to raise a total of $2.5 million over the next three years.
This is a challenge she does not shy away from, however, because "we have had a very positive reception," thanks to the support of celebrities like music producer Emilio Estefan, she said.
"This is our moment. We're seeing a change in society, where more and more the importance and the impact of Latinos in the United States is being understood. ... This is the right moment to honor these contributions, especially now that we're going into an election year," Aponte said.
According to data from the 2010 Census, Hispanics number 50.5 million or 16.3 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest growing minority in the country.
Latinos also make up a growing percentage of the population in the public schools - there are 17.1 million Latinos under age 17 - but textbooks still do not faithfully reflect the Latino presence across the past 400 years in North America.
Very few people know, for example, that Latinos played an important role in achieving the independence of the United States or that more than 20,000 Hispanics fought in the Civil War.
In that sense, Aponte reflects on the lessons, struggles and experiences of late African-American leaders like Rosa Parks, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to transmit a people's pride in its roots to future generations.
Among her ideas is to set up scholarships for community groups that, in turn, will be the ones to educate young people about their great cultural heritage.
The American Latino Heritage Fund is also proposing to broaden the number of Latino historical sites through the National Park System.
According to Aponte, currently less than 3 percent of the National Register of Historic Places is set aside for sites with an Hispanic character.
On Tuesday, Salazar designated Trujillo Homesteads, a 19th-century Latino settlement in Colorado's San Luis Valley, as a national historic landmark.
Aponte is not involved in the creation of the first Latino museum on The Mall in Washington, but she says that an important part of the work of groups like hers is to emphasize the civic, economic and cultural contributions of Latinos in the United States.
They are contributions that, in recent years, have been obscured by certain ultraconservative groups who see every Latino as some kind of threat.
"In honoring our contributions, we're changing the dynamic and the perceptions about Latinos, and we're changing the tone of this national dialogue," she said.
Aponte's work seems to be guided by an old refrain: "You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've come from."