(Trends Wide) — National Hispanic Heritage Month begins this Wednesday and runs through October 15, giving the United States the opportunity to recognize and celebrate members of our communities and their ancestors who hail from Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. and Spain.
“The Latino community and Latino history are a fundamental part of American history,” said Emily Key, director of education for the Smithsonian Latino Center. “And acknowledging and understanding it are key reasons why this month is important.”
Here’s why the United States celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month and what you need to know about it.
Instead of starting in early September, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated for 30 days starting on the 15th, a nod to the anniversaries of national independence for several Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua recognizes September 15 as the date of its independence, while Mexico’s independence is celebrated on September 16 and Chile’s on September 18.
The history of Hispanic Heritage Month dates back to 1968, when the celebration lasted only one week. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation designating the week of September 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Week,” according to the Office of the Historian and the Office of Art and Archives of the US House of Representatives.
In the opening statement, he wrote about the “great contribution to our national heritage made by our people of Hispanic descent, not only in the fields of culture, business and science, but also through their courage in battle.”
“That was a period in which, without a doubt, Southwest Chicanos, Mexican Americans and Latinos across the country demanded greater political, cultural, social, economic inclusion and representation … of everything,” said Geraldo Cadava, professor of history and Latino studies at Northwestern University and author of “The Hispanic Republican.”
“It was a demand for greater inclusion and representation and the recognition that Latinos play an important role in the United States,” he said.
It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that Hispanic Heritage Week was stretched to an entire month under President Ronald Reagan.
Congressman Esteban Torres of California introduced a bill to expand it, saying in his comments at the time: “We want the public to know that we share a legacy with the rest of the country, a legacy that includes artists, writers, Olympic champions and leaders in business, government, film and science. “
Torres’ bill was stopped in committee, but Senator Paul Simon of Illinois introduced a similar bill that Reagan signed into law.
The contributions of Hispanics and Latinos to the United States are vast and steeped in history: Key noted that the first known colony in the United States was not Jamestown, but the Spanish colony of St. Augustine in Florida.
“Hispanics or Latinos … have fought in every war since the American Revolution,” he said. “They are business owners and veterans and teachers and public servants.”
And he added: “Latinos are Americans and are part of this fabric.”
A growing population
But Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for the country to recognize not only the rich history of its diverse Hispanic communities, but who they are today, said Félix Sánchez, president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
“Hispanic Heritage Month gives us the opportunity to update the American people on who Latinos are today,” he said, “to provide a contemporary context to all of our communities that are very different, that are part of the Latino ecosystem.” .
Part of that contemporary context is the fact that Hispanics and Latinos make up a growing portion of the general population of the United States.
The 2020 US Census showed that Hispanics and Latinos constitute a rapidly growing multiracial group: in 2020, 62.1 million people identified as Hispanic or Latino, 18% of the US population. That number had grown 23% since 2010. By comparison, the US population that is not of Hispanic or Latino origin grew just 4.3%, according to census data.
Between 2010 and 2020, just over half of the total growth in the US population, 51.1%, was due to the growth of Hispanics or Latinos, according to the Census Bureau.
This growth is another reason why Hispanic Heritage Month is important, Key said. “If you are 18% of the population, then you should also have representation, and we should celebrate and understand these communities that make up a large part of the country’s population.”
Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration
There are many ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, whether it’s with books, movies, documentaries – Cadava’s suggestions include the PBS documentary series on Latin America or the “Latino USA” podcast – or live programming. related to Hispanics and Latinos and their history in the United States.
“If that means going to a Mexican Independence parade, of which there are many throughout the country in your community, you should do it,” he said.
Furthermore, museums like the Smithsonian have online learning events and resources for families to use as guided learning about Latinos and their communities, including profiles of Latino patriots in military history. People can also visit local museums, he said, that have Latino content and collections.
Or they can just talk to people in their neighborhood, Key said. “Talk to a friend, a classmate, a neighbor, the manager of the grocery store or the restaurant where you buy your favorite tacos,” he said.
“People like to share about their culture and their communities. … Learn about who they are and why they are in the neighborhoods they are in, and you will find that we probably have more things in common than we think.”
It is important to bear in mind, according to the experts, that this inheritance can be recognized and appreciated at all times of the year, outside of the 30-day period between September 15 and October 15. Hispanic Heritage Month is an “introductory month” or “entry point,” Key noted, to learn more about your neighbors, peers and colleagues and their heritage.
“Ideally, Hispanic Heritage Month would be unnecessary,” Cadava said, adding: “Do you need a month that is essentially United States History Month, when Latino heritage, Hispanic heritage, and American heritage American mean the same thing? “
Sánchez shares this view, telling Trends Wide: “Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for the Latino community to reinforce its achievements, but also to reach out beyond the Latino community, to remind them that we are all Americans.”