The word “Juneteenth” is one that many of us had never even heard until a few years ago or even more just this year, but it’s one that every American and every person living in America should be familiar with. Celebrated on June 19th of every year, it commemorates the day the last slaves in America were freed when General Gordon Granger descended on Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3. This happened on June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation legally ending slavery in the American South, and six months after the 13th amendment was signed, legally abolishing slavery for the entire country. Many slaves didn’t even know that they had been freed, until what is now known as Juneteenth.
Yes, that’s right. Many white people and Confederates resisted the abolishment of slavery for as long as they could. They ignored President Lincoln’s executive order for more than two years until the military was forced to step in and make them comply. As wrong as it is, we’re honestly not surprised. Those are the same people whose choices, actions and beliefs have dictated the race relations in America for all of its history. But now is a time of reckoning, and acknowledging Juneteenth is one more step in the right direction.
Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for generations with celebrations traditionally taking place in Black churches throughout the country. But it wasn’t until more recently that the significance of the day became a part of the collective consciousness of American society as a whole. After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor along with many others, racial tensions throughout the country seemed to peak, resulting in a new cultural awareness in regard to systemic racism. That led to a huge social movement demanding justice and equal rights for people of color most prominently in June of 2020.
With Juneteenth being celebrated just weeks after those murders, a national spotlight was on this significant day for possibly the first time. A number of American companies made it a corporate holiday for their employees and some states followed suit, further increasing awareness surrounding the day.
On Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden signed a bill designating Juneteenth as a federal holiday making it the 12th legal public holiday and marking the first time a new federal holiday has been created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Prior to President Biden’s decision to legalize the holiday, every state except North Dakota and South Dakota, had already declared Juneteenth a state or ceremonial holiday.
This level of recognition is long overdue. More than 46 million Americans self-identified as Black as of 2019, a 29 percent increase since the year 2000, according to the PEW Research Center. That number includes 2.4 million Latinos who also identify as Black (accounting for 5 percent of the total Black population), an increase of a whopping 145 percent since the year 2000. So, as we’ve said before, we’ll say again, the issues concerning Black Americans are issues that should also concern Latinos in America.
In the days of slavery Afro-Latinx individuals born of the African diaspora were enslaved just the same as their ancestors who arrived en masse in the Caribbean and Latin America on slave ships. There was no designation between the two, and Latinos in general but Afro-Latinx in particular, who immigrated to the United States have historically been subjected to many of the same injustices that Black Americans have been. We’ve benefited from the abolishment of slavery just the same.
Racist white people—those who would see us chained, enslaved and hanged—don’t see much of a difference and had slavery not been abolished over 150 years ago, who knows where or how Latinos in America would be living today. But it’s also important for Latinos to recognize and honor Juneteenth as a holiday because as Black and brown people we need to be each other’s allies. There is power and strength in numbers and if we can commit to share each other’s struggles, fight each other’s fights and celebrate each other’s victories, we’ll all be better off.
So, how should you honor Juneteenth? The same way you do every celebratory holiday, by recognizing its importance and significance within a historical context. But we also recommend using it as an opportunity to become better informed and educated about the various aspects of Black history and Afro-Latinx history that we aren’t taught in school. Find yourself some sources that aren’t whitewashed or inaccurate and get into the details. Read books by Black and Afro-Latinx authors, follow Black activists, politicians and thought leaders on social media, visit a Black church, check out the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. There are even educational events held in honor of Juneteenth in many communities throughout the country.
Or maybe just link up with your Black friends and see what they’re doing to celebrate Juneteenth. Many Black families throughout the United States celebrate by going to church, barbecuing and attending rallies marches and parades. Now’s the time to jump in with an open mind, reach out to Black and Afro-Latinx people in your circle and let them know that you stand with them.
Artist and influencer Devon Blow says, “Now, African Americans recognize Juneteenth with celebrations and spending time remembering our shared History.” Let’s do that. Let’s come together and remember our shared history, talk about how far we’ve come, celebrate the victories and look forward to an even more empowered and free future.