by Manuel Muniz
Hispanic Heritage month is an annual celebration of the culture, history and people of the Latino and Hispanic communities in the United States.
The observation stretches from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and honors how the community contributed to American society.
Hispanic or Latino refers to someone’s culture or origins, no matter what race. On the 2020 U.S Census, people were considered Hispanic or Latino if they identified as having Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or any other Hispanic, Latino or Spanish, ancestry. The Hispanic and Latino community make up about 18.7% of the population and are the largest ethnic group in California and New Mexico, as well as a close second in Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
Hispanic Heritage Month was originally only observed as Hispanic Heritage Week under then President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. It was later extended under President Ronald Reagan in 1988 as a way to properly celebrate the culture and achievements. But the first push came from California Congressman George E. Brown, who wanted to recognize the contributions the Latino community had made, especially during the peak of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
The timing of Hispanic Heritage Month is not a coincidence, as it goes hand in hand with the Independence Day celebrations of several Latin American countries. September 15 was chosen as the start of the observation because it coincides with the Independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The five nations declared independence on September 15, 1821, from Spain. Mexico celebrates theirs on Sept. 16, and Chile celebrates on Sept. 18 of the same month.
Even though Hispanic Heritage month is a celebration, it should also be used as a time to teach the missing chapters of history and remember the horrors the community has had to overcome. Among these are the lynchings of South Texas, the Zoot Suit Riots, the segregation of Latino kids in schools or the Gasoline Baths that went on to inspire German scientists in World War II. It should also be an opportunity to teach about influential leaders such as Cesar Chavez, who fought for union rights for migrant farm workers, or Sylvia Mendez, whose parents fought to desegregate schools in California. Mendez v. Westminster became an example for future cases such as Brown v. Board of Education.
A reoccurring theme of the start of every Hispanic Heritage month is a presidential speech. One of the most touching speeches came from former President George H.W. Bush, who said, “Not all of the contributions made by Hispanic Americans to our society are so visible or so widely celebrated, however. Hispanic Americans have enriched our nation beyond measure with the quiet strength of closely knit families and proud communities.”
In the time since, National Hispanic Heritage Month speeches have been made by every U.S president. Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 began Sept. 15 through Friday, Oct. 15.
Hispanic Heritage Month should be recognized as not only Hispanic heritage but American heritage. Latino and Hispanic educators, artists, other professionals and people make our community stronger and more resilient. Hispanic and Latino voices, dreams and successes matter now more than ever.