The United States is home to many cultures and ethnicities. People love celebrating diversity, including Hispanic and Latino cultures. But until somewhat recently, America’s largest ethnic minority group didn’t have a formal way to celebrate its contributions to the country.
Thankfully, that all has changed. Every year, a 30-day period is dedicated to Hispanic and Latino achievements. So just what is Hispanic Heritage Month? Let’s dive in to learn more about the origins of this annual celebration and famous events that mark the occasion.
What Is Hispanic Heritage Month?
Its full title is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and it’s a celebration held annually across the United States from September 15 to October 15. This time is set aside to shed a spotlight on the rich cultural heritage, contributions, and achievements of Hispanic Americans.
What Is the Meaning of Hispanic and Latino Heritage?
Many people self-identify as Hispanic or Latino or subscribe to both terms.
Hispanic refers to someone from or descended from someone from Spain or Latin American countries where Spanish is widely spoken.
Latino/a incorporates anyone from Latin America, regardless of which language they speak. Some people use the term Latinx for more inclusive, gender-neutral language. For our purposes, we’ll use Latinx throughout this article.
For example, a Portuguese speaker from Brazil may identify as Latino but not Hispanic because of the language difference. A Spaniard may identify as Hispanic but not Latino because Spain is part of Europe.
Some Hispanics and Latinx can trace their ancestry in North America before the United States even existed as a country. Others have families who arrived as immigrants from Spain or Latin American countries.
Of course, nationality is a complex subject. It’s not unusual for people who identify as Hispanic to introduce themselves as being from their family’s home country.
Why Was Hispanic Heritage Month Created?
The National Hispanic Heritage Month was established to celebrate the wide-ranging histories and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx peoples. It covers the diverse traditions and cultures from countries including Spain, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and many more.
Education and recognition of Hispanic culture form the backbone of the month, similar to Black History Month in February, LGBTQIA+ Pride month in June, and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.
The focus is on triumphing the achievements of Hispanic and Latinx people and cultures in the continued success of the United States. It also allows people to learn about their origins and history and how their ancestors were an integral part of the U.S. the world sees today.
What Is Hispanic Heritage Month’s History?
In the 1960s, the United States was at the crux of civil rights movements. Many people from persecuted minorities, including Hispanic and Latinx populations, protested against discrimination. Celebrating their cultures and achievements was part of a process of acknowledging their contributions to America’s multicultural society.
At that time, California Congressman George E. Brown represented two areas with large Hispanic and Latinx populations — East Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley. Brown wanted to commemorate their development of the American state and first touted the idea of a celebratory week.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson wrote the first proclamation for National Hispanic Heritage Week in September. The starting day of September 15 was chosen as that was the date when five Latin American countries declared their independence from Spain back in 1821. The countries were: Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the week to a month . The following year marked the start of a new tradition — U.S. presidents would now give an annual proclamation to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.
The new month covered other important dates. Chile and Mexico celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, respectively. Hispanic Heritage Month also covers Día de la Raza, which falls on October 12.
When Was National Hispanic Heritage First Celebrated?
President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed September 15, 1968, the first National Hispanic Heritage Week.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared that September 15 to October 15 would become the National Hispanic Heritage Month. It was in 1989 that the first National Hispanic Heritage Month was held.
What Is Hispanic Heritage Month’s Theme for 2022?
For 2022, the theme for the National Hispanic Heritage Month is “Unidos (United): Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation.”
Previous positive themes include:
2021: Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope
2020: Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future
2019: Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation
How Do People Celebrate National Hispanic Month?
Dozens of official events occur during National Hispanic Heritage Month across the United States. These are on top of local concerts, parades, art exhibitions, films, and food fairs, many of which are family-friendly. Most concentrate on celebrating some part of the multitude of Hispanic and Latinx cultures.
Depending on where you live, art lovers could enjoy an exhibition about Latinx players and their influence on baseball , look at the natural world through the eyes of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo , or explore the paintings and murals of Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera . (Their artistry and relationship continues to fascinate people worldwide.)
History buffs can learn about the colonial era. There are educational programs about Latinx labor, Hispanic and Latinx Americans in government, music, and much more. Check the official exhibits and collections and ask at your local town hall.
Don’t forget to support Latinx businesses during National Hispanic Heritage Month. And what better way to do so than with some tasty food from a restaurant or food truck? Texans can enjoy delicious Tex-Mex cuisine , a classic American and Mexican fusion that showcases why diversity brings positive rewards — and not just to taste buds.
Besides attending events, you could read a Spanish-language book or a translated version by a Spanish-language author. Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral writes beautifully and was the first the first Latin American author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945 .
Works by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez remain immensely popular around the world — he also won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Uruguayan journalist, essayist, and author Eduardo Galleano was beloved and received the first Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom in 1999 .
Mexican-American author and poet Sandra Cisneros is a contemporary writer whose national bestseller “The House on Mango Street” is required reading in some schools. For something a bit older, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a nun in 17 th century Colonial Mexico whose passions were women’s rights and love.
Did you know: Cuban-American novelist Oscar Hijuelos was the first Hispanic writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his 1989 book, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.”
What Are Some of the Biggest Hispanic Month Celebrations?
Here are three fantastic National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations in the United States:
- The free Northwest Arkansas Hispanic Heritage Festival has parades, crafts, soccer, and more.
- Washington D.C. residents can enjoy the free Latino Heritage Festival Family Day and Concert. There will be cooking, skating, and talks, among the many events.
- Jazz aficionados will love New York’s El Barrio Latin Jazz Festival .
Who Are Some Famous Hispanic or Latinx People?
Many famous Hispanic and Latinx people have contributed to making the United States the success it is today. Here are some names that should be on your radar:
- César Chavez and Dolores Huerta were Mexican-Americans who used non-violent action to win immigrant workers’ rights in the 1960s after founding the National Farm Workers Association. Chavez has a national — not federal — holiday held in his honor on March 31 every year, which was his birthday.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , also known as AOC, is the youngest woman and Latina to serve in Congress.
- Celia Cruz was a Cuban-American known as the Queen of the Salsa.
- Macario García was the first Mexican to receive a U.S. Medal of Honor in 1945.
- Ellen Ochoa became the first Latina astronaut in space in 1993.
- Isabel Allende from Chile is one of the most widely-read Spanish-language authors worldwide, winning over 60 international writing awards.
was Puerto Rican and the first Hispanic baseball player to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
There are many more famous Latinos in entertainment and pop culture — from Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, John Leguizamo, and Sofia Vergara to Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, Andy Garcia, Shakira, Marc Anthony, Selena, Carlos Santana … t he list goes on.
How Can I Celebrate National Hispanic Month at Home?
There are plenty of ways to join in with the National Hispanic Month festivities at home.
- Organize a party with traditional foods from a particular region (or celebrate a variety of regions) and share stories from those areas.
- Watch classic Hispanic or Latinx films.
- If you don’t speak Spanish, learn some Spanish vocabulary and phrases to practice at your party.
- Get the kids and adults to paint in the style of mural masters like Diego Rivera or David Alfaro Siqueiros.
- Cook a delicious dish like ceviche (a raw fish appetizer from Peru), pozole (a Mexican stew of hominy and meat), or habichuelas (rice and beans from Dominican Republic), to name a few.
- Listen to Hispanic or Latinx music, or even take a dance class, from salsa to mambo to Yurumein (Guatemala).
- Make a cocktail — Pisco sours (Peru) and margaritas (Mexico) are a fabulous starting point!
- Play a game of l otería , which is sometimes called Mexican bingo
Watch Spanish-language soaps called “telenovelas” or binge on a streamed series.
How Many Hispanic and Latino People Live in the United States?
In 2021, of America’s 331 million population, more than 62 million self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, or both of those terms.
Which State Has the Largest Hispanic and Latino Community?
What Countries Take Part in National Hispanic Heritage Month?
Many countries come under the Hispanic and Latino tag — some are in both camps, according to NBC .
In alphabetical order, Hispanic countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Also in alphabetical order, Latin American countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Where Can I Learn About Hispanic or Latinx History in Texas?
Texas has the second largest Hispanic and Latinx population in the United States. While it’s great to celebrate days like Cinco de Mayo , it hasn’t always been that easy for minorities.
That’s why Blackwell School in Marfa is a fantastic place to learn about some of the Lone State’s darker moments.
From 1909 to 1965, Blackwell School was the only public education institution for Marfa’s Mexican and Mexican-American children. At that time, no state law demanded the segregation of whites from Hispanic or Latinx people, unlike African Americans. However, that’s what happened with the construction of Blackwell School.
White pupils went to different schools while Blackwell School was only for Mexican and Mexican-American children. The school has become symbolic of an era when “separate but equal” practices were rife in U.S. social and education systems.
It’s Time to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
What is Hispanic Heritage Month? In theoretical terms, it’s 30 days spent remembering and celebrating all that Hispanic and Latinx people have achieved and how they have positively impacted the United States and beyond.
In reality, it’s almost impossible to contain National Hispanic Heritage Month to just one thing because it draws on so many countries and people’s cultures. You could attend dozens of Hispanic Heritage Month events and find them all different. And therein lies the beauty.
That said, there is a common thread as these histories are now shared and intertwined with America’s past and future. There can be no doubt that Hispanic and Latinx people have enriched the United States and have helped transform it into the culturally rich, innovative, vibrant, and diverse place that it is today.
So raise a glass, plate, paintbrush, or even your dancing shoes — and take time to enjoy and learn about people and events that eventually led to Hispanic Heritage Month.
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