Hispanic Heritage MonthUpdated: October 19, 2021
What is Hispanic Heritage Month? Every year, America celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, honoring the contributions and sacrifices Hispanic and Latino Americans have made to the nation, it’s culture, and industry.
What started off as a humble seven day observation in the late 1960s turned into a month-long celebration of a rich diversity of cultures.
A Brief History Of Hispanic Heritage Month
History.com observes that the term “Hispanic” refers to someone’s culture or origin regardless of their race. In 2020, History.com reports that year’s official Census forms counted Americans as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish, “if they could identify as having Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or ‘another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.’”
In 1968, California Congressman George Brown introduced the first version of this observation, then envisioned as a week-long commemoration of the Latinx community. This came on the heels of much activism to recognize the contribution of these Americans.
Some Americans may not understand the cultural nuances that inform terms like Hispanic or Latino; these are important nuances to understand in order to gain a fuller appreciation of our fellow Americans. Dictionary.com says the term “Hispanic” is, “an adjective that generally means “relating to Spanish-speaking Latin America or to “people of Spanish-speaking descent’”.
“Hispanic” can also be used as a noun when referring to an American who is “of Spanish or Spanish-speaking Latin-American descent.”
Dictionary.com defines “Latino” and “Latina” as adjectives and nouns that describes a person “of Latin American origin or descent, especially one who lives in the United States.”
Dictionary.com adds that the word Latinx “emerged in the early 2000s and has since spread as a gender-neutral or nonbinary way to refer to a person of Latin American descent.“
Among the cultural nuances at play here? One 2019 ThinkNow poll noted that among respondents, a “majority of Hispanic and Latin Americans say they do not identify with the word”.
A Congressman Representing East L.A. Makes The Difference
Congressman Brown represented East Los Angeles at the time, and his efforts were rewarded with the passage of Public Law 90-48 which officially established National Hispanic Heritage Week. The first observance of that week included a presidential proclamation by President Lyndon Johnson.
Two Decades Later
20 years later, President Ronald Reagan expanded the observance to a full 30 days, though not in a single month–the expanded version is today’s version that runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year.
But Reagan didn’t do that on his own. In 1987 Representative Esteban Torres (California) brought the idea that the week should be expanded so that the nation could give its Hispanic citizens enough time to, as History.com reports, “properly observe and coordinate events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement.”
Enter Hispanic Heritage Month
A year later, Senator Paul Simon of Illinois submitted a bill stating the same thing–the measure was signed into law in August of 1988 and President George H.W. Bush was the first president to declare the month-long version of Hispanic Heritage week.
Upon making Hispanic Heritage Month official, Bush went on the record saying he felt “Not all” of the contributions made by Hispanic Americans are as visible and celebrated as they ought; Bush said at the time, “Hispanic Americans have enriched our nation beyond measure with the quiet strength of closely knit families and proud communities”.
Sept. 15 is an especially significant day in this observance as it is the observed independence day for many Latin American countries who struggled to become free of Spain. Mexico and Chile both celebrate theirs just after the 15th (the 16th and 18th of September, respectively).
There are many significant days during this time frame, so it makes sense that the month-long observance would stretch across those dates.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News