History of Hispanic Heritage Month
The Hispanic Heritage observance began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period beginning on September 15 and ending on October 15. The U.S. government commemorates the countless contributions of more than 60 million Hispanic and Latin Americans to our culture and society through festivals and educational activities.
Why should you care? Hispanic/Latin Americans comprise the largest minority group in the United States today.
Hispanic/Latin Americans commemorate the rich perspective a dual identity offers. Namely, the ability to look back with gratitude for your heritage. What a gift to be bi-cultural, bi-lingual, and to smile because Hispanos carry an important piece of what unites these great states we call home. Hispanic Heritage Month creates space on the American calendar to celebrate the evolving legacies of twenty-one beautiful cultures and what their emigrants and Hispanic American descendants have carried to the United States. Many cultural events also include Brazilian Portuguese speakers in their celebrations.
Why do we need a whole month to celebrate?
Hispanic Heritage Month starts in the middle of the month to correspond with the national independence anniversary dates of many countries. Here are some important dates to learn:
- September 15: Independence Day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
- On September 16: Mexican Independence
- September 18: Chile Independence
- September 21: Belize Independence
- October 12: Columbus Day or Día de la Raza
Which term is correct? When should I use Hispanic versus Latino? Are they interchangeable? The terms Hispanic/Latino refer to a person’s culture or origin—regardless of race. These are odd labels, especially for a recent immigrant to the United States. Both pan-ethnic terms were originally crafted to homogenize or encapsulate all the different Spanish-speaking cultures. This was for the purpose of the U.S. population counts during this last half-century.
For instance, in the United States when someone asks you where you’re from, you wouldn’t say “I’m North American or I’m American.” Instead, “I’m from North Carolina.” A native Spanish speaker would not say “I’m Hispanic” or “I’m Latino” in the country of their birth or ancestry. In one’s country of origin, one might simply say: I’m from “El Quindio” (the iconic coffee-producing region of Colombia) when traveling around their country or encountering other Colombians abroad.
The term Hispanic defines someone from or who has ancestors from a Spanish speaking country, including Spain. Latino/a came along later as a grassroots description of someone from Latin America (Mexico, Central, or South America). Spanish and Portuguese are the predominant languages. Two threads uniting the myriad of Hispanic/Latino cultures.
These U.S. government-invented words cannot fully define the diverse peoples represented. Each country, and often each region, within those countries has its dichos (sayings). For example, in Honduras alone, there are dozens of names to describe the different types of bananas my mother-in-law cultivates in her 20 acres of fields.
Whether Hispanic/Latino or otherwise, we all have much richness to gain from one another’s cultural perspectives and traditions.
My Family’s Story
My husband is Honduran. What majority culture citizens might choose to call culture or tradition is simply their every day. We do not proactively celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month among his family of first-generation immigrants. However, they are learning to make their way in this country by balancing new beginnings and hanging on to their ancestral roots through language, recipes, and festive traditions. And while teaching their children the importance of confidently engaging in classrooms of peers as the minority voices after leaving tin-roofed schoolrooms. In their mountain village of coffee farmers, my nieces and nephews were just kids who blended in. Here, as immigrants, they have the opportunity to share a perspective different from the majority. Therefore, they have the daily opportunity to leave a memorable mark through their uniqueness.
It is likely it will take time to find their voices and acknowledge the value they bring to our community. Remembering the beauty of their original home while adapting to life in a new land.
Your Family Story
Whether Hispanic or not, do you know your family’s heritage? What sacrifices were made so you can be where you are in life today? How can you carry on the work of your ancestors? In other words, may we go on to do greater things because of the paths they have walked. Furthermore, you represent your last name, your familia and cultura! Even the problems you and your ancestors have faced make it possible for you to be fully you. To break the chains that bound them.
How to break chains and honor your heritage…
- Without experiencing the pain and struggles in your past, you wouldn’t be able to prosper over current problems. Pain builds endurance allowing you the chance to not quit at pursuing a meaningful life and legacy.
- Know your “why”. Don’t let your parents’ sacrifices be in vain. <<Ellos emigraron para sobrevivir, ahora yo tengo que sobresalir>> (Translation: They emigrated for survival, now I have the opportunity to thrive.”).
- Firstly, do you consider yourself a victim or a creator? Secondly, are you part of the problem or the solution? Choosing to create makes you accountable. Additionally, how are you representing your family today? Do others associate your family name with positive contributions as champions or as worthless clowns? Don’t let the perceptions of others distract you from pursuing the path you feel called to.
Heritage months help us to recognize that these great United States of America were, and continue to benefit from, the presence of immigrants who help us remember that we can all continue to work hard and collaborate to build a better future.
Above all, this month and in the Hispanic Heritage Months to come, may we seek to celebrate the richness of all the Hispanic/Latin Americans with whom we cross paths.
Check out this link for more information and ideas: https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/
Fellow We Spot blogger Betzy Valdez shares her thoughts on the beauty of her Mexican roots here: https://thewespot.com/independencia-de-mexico-what-you-need-to-know/