September is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate Latino culture and people like Alex who work to infuse it into everyday American life.
"When I was a kid, it was not popular to be Mexican," says Alex Nogales.
"Mexican restaurants went by 'Spanish cafes.' That sounded better," he laughs. "But it was really a Mexican restaurant that sold tacos!"
Alex is the founder, president, and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which is dedicated to increasing visibility for Latinos in media and entertainment.
Photo courtesy of NHMC.
Alex's desire to shine a spotlight on Latino culture stems in part from the discrimination and ignorance he faced growing up.
"I am first-generation, born in this nation. My parents were immigrants from Mexico. We were farm laborers, which meant that we worked the fruits and vegetables in seasons," Alex says.
Photo via iStock.
He and his family would start harvesting cotton in California's Imperial Valley, near the Mexican border. When school was over, they would go to Delano for grapes, then to Manteca for tomatoes, to Northern California for plums and peaches, then back to Manteca before heading back home. They were away from their home in Calexico for six months at a time. Alex enjoyed traveling and meeting people from different walks of life. "But it was a difficult life in many ways," he says.
"Mexicans were not treated very well by the ranchers," he says. "There were signs up and down the state that said, 'No dogs or Mexicans allowed.'"
Today, Alex works to get more — and more accurate — representation of Latino culture into the mainstream.
In fact, he created the National Hispanic Media Coalition to give people a vehicle to do just that.
"It took me years to get over those kinds of discriminatory comments and prejudices," Alex says. But as an adult, when he began work as a writer and producer, he encountered more of the same thing. "I saw who got the jobs and who didn't and why," he says. "A lot of it had to do with, who were people culturally close to?"
Alex and "How to Get Away With Murder" star Karla Souza at the NHMC's 2017 Impact Awards Gala, where Hispanic and Latino actors and actresses are celebrated for their work in the arts. Photo via NHMC/Flickr.
In places where Latino representation is sparse, people sometimes believe inaccurate, harmful stereotypes about Latinos because they've never personally experienced life within the Latino community. People rely on media for real portrayals of people who are different from them, which is why it's so important to Alex that Latinos are characterized correctly.
The importance of visibility is also why Alex chose Los Angeles to live, work, and champion his mission.
More than any other city in the United States, Los Angeles is where you can get an accurate understanding of what the Latino community actually looks like.
Photo by William Garrett/Flickr.
"Our community is no different from other immigrants that have come to this country," Alex says. Individual roles vary so widely that any stereotype is bound to be inaccurate. "We're doctors. We're lawyers. We're cops," he says. He ticks off the names: "The head of the state Senate is a Latino. The head of the Assembly is a Latino. The attorney general is a Latino," he says.
"If you really want to know more, engage us," Alex says. "Go to festivities — any of them that occur during Hispanic Heritage Month."
Visibility is important year-round, but the events held during Hispanic Heritage Month are a great opportunity to learn more about and celebrate Latino culture.
A dancer at a Hispanic cultural event in downtown Los Angeles called the Blessing of the Animals. Photo by Ray_LAC/Flickr.
In his view, the celebration of Hispanic and Latino cultures is something to be shared among everyone.
"I like it when we have people outside our own community coming to our own celebrations," he says. "You know, anything that is ethnic is to be celebrated. The food is great, the cultural things are great, the people are great. And how are you gonna not like something that's happy?"
In Los Angeles, SoCal Honda is helping people celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. To find out how and where to participate (or to get some inspiration for your own town's celebrations!) follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.