Hispanic Heritage Month: A brief history and why it begins mid-month | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 21, 2024

National Hispanic Heritage Month started last week and will run through October 15. Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates members of our communities and their ancestors from Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Spain, and it begins in the middle of September, rather than the beginning, as a nod to the anniversaries of national independence for a number of Latin American countries.

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua all celebrate independence day on September 15, while Mexico’s date of independence is September 16, and Chile celebrates its independence on September 18. The original Hispanic Heritage celebration was in 1968, although it was recognized as just a week, not a month. The week was designated by President Lyndon B. Johnson who signed a bill marking the week of September 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Week.” The week became a month under President Ronald Reagan 20 years later.

The establishment of Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the important role that Hispanic Americans play in the US. Emily Key, director of education at the Smithsonian Latino Center, points out that the first US colony was not the well-known Jamestown, but in fact the Spanish colony of St. Augustine in Florida. “Hispanics or Latinos … have fought in every war since the American Revolution,” she told CNN. “They are business owners and veterans and teachers and public servants.”

Looking for meaningful ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?  Geraldo Cadava, professor of history and Latina and Latino Studies at Northwestern University suggests watching PBS’ documentary series on Latino America or listening to the podcast “Latino USA.” Many cities will also be hosting Mexican Independence parades and the Smithsonian has assembled this resource for families to learn about the history and influence of Latinos in their community.

Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, notes that Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to focus on the contributions and experiences of Hispanic communities, but this doesn’t have to be limited to just one month. He tells CNN, “Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for both the Latino community to reinforce its accomplishments but also to extend beyond the Latino community, to remind all Americans that we are American.”

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