We’re nearly halfway through National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, a month that recognizes the cultures, contributions, influence, and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latinx Americans. In today’s post, let’s explore what Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is, why it’s important that we all recognize this month, how to celebrate, and how to be an ally to the Hispanic/Latinx community all year long.
What Is Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month?
From September 15 to October 15 National Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month pays tribute to the diverse cultures of American citizens whose ancestors came from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, and Central and South America. For 30 days celebrations applaud and appreciate the tremendous role Hispanic/Latinx Americans have done to enrich and reshape America’s past, present, and future.
For Hispanic/Latinx Americans, it’s a time to embrace their backgrounds, be proud of who they are, and where they come from. For everyone else, it’s a time not only to celebrate but also to reflect, hear stories of resilience, and elevate historically underrepresented voices.
Why September 15th?
The dates designated were carefully chosen for their cultural relevance. The start date, September 15 is significant because it marks the independence for several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The following day, September 16, is Mexico’s Independence Day, while Chile celebrates its independence on September 18 and Belize on September 21. On October 12 Mexicans reclaim Columbas Day as the Dia de la Raza (Race day) which recognizes the mixed Indigenous and European Heritage of Mexico.
People of the United States, especially the educational community, to ovserve such week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.Original Hispanic Heritage Month Call to Action
The History Behind Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month
Celebrating Hispanic/Latinx heritage originated from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with recognition of the contributions of Hispanic/Latinx people. The movement ignited awareness of the importance of diversity of identities in its communities in the United States.
The celebration of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage started back in 1968 and lasted only for a week. The original Heritage week called upon the “people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe such week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.” Twenty years later, the observation expanded into a month-long celebration.
U.S. Representative Esteban E. Torress brought the idea of expanding the observance to a month-long period instead of just a week in 1987. He wanted more time so that the nation could “properly observe and coordinate events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement.” On August 17, 1988, Congress passed a law to extend it into a month-long holiday. The first Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated in 1989.
Dedicating a month to celebrating and recognizing Hispanic/Latinx Heritage was a significant step towards visibility. G. Cristina Mora, author of Making Hispanics: How Activists, Bureaucrats, and Media Constructed a New American said that “it asserted that we are here and part of this nation.”
Understanding Terminology: Hispanic, Latino/Latina, Latinx, Latine, Chicano/Chicana
The words, Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx are often used interchangeably leading to the misconception that they are all the same; when in reality, they are all very different. Language and terminology matter. The purpose of dedicating a month to Hispanic/Latinx heritage is to appreciate the rich diversity of our nation, but when we use the terms interchangeably, we are doing the complete opposite.
Hispanic recognizes those whose roots are from Spanish-speaking countries, so the main focus in determining whether someone is Hispanic or not is through language. This includes countries like Spain in Europe, some countries and territories in the Caribbean, and almost all countries in Latin America, but excludes countries such as Brazil and Haiti and places where Indigenous groups live in Latin America.
While Hispanic focuses on language, the term(s) Latino/Latina focuses on geography. This includes countries, cultures, or peoples in or originating from Latin America. That encompasses over 20+ Latin American countries and territories in North, Central, and South America as well as in the Caribbean: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and the U.S. Puerto Rico as well as the French overseas regions of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin, and Saint Barthelemy.
Latinx and Latine
The word ‘Latinx’ and ‘Latine’ are alternatives to the word Latino or Latina. They mean the same thing, relating to people of Latin American origin or descent. The words Latinx and Latine have been recently adopted as gender-neutral or non-binary alternatives, making it more inclusive for all. Latinx and Latine emerged as an act of solidarity to include LGBTQ+ people who may not want to be categorized as male or female since the Spanish language categorizes most words as masculine or feminine. Latinx and Latine give people a way to avoid choosing a gender for a group or an unknown individual, much like using the singular “they” to avoid the choice between “he” or “she” in English.
The word “Chicano/Chicana” refers to someone of Mexican origin or descent who lives in the United States. The term has recently been reclaimed to express political empowerment and ethnic solidarity. Some Mexican Americans choose to identify as Chicano/Chicana as opposed to Hispanic or Latinx because they feel those terms would not account for their mix of Spanish and Indigenous heritage. During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the term “Chicano” became popular among many Mexican Americans to express a shared cultural and ethnic identity as explained by Roque Planas in an article for the Huffington Post.
Why Does It Matter?
It’s important we recognize the many different communities encompassed in the Hispanic/Latinx community. Understanding the nuances of these terms is essential to properly honor this month and beyond. While it’s common to use umbrella terms to unify multiple (particularly 20+) nationalities under one banner; using these words interchangeably does not help to foster a sense of community among the people they’re supposed to describe. The Hispanic/Latinx community consists of diverse cultures, traditions, and heritage. They are not a monolith. Language is ever-evolving. And while a single word may never perfectly describe such a diverse and rich culture, using intentional language can make us more inclusive and can help us better embrace diversity.
Something also important to note is that these terms are and should be self-identifying. You are Latino/a, Latinx, Hispanic, or Chicano/Chicana if you say you are and fit the definition based on language, culture, or region.
While using the correct terminology and understanding the differences is a start to being more inclusive, the entire idea of ‘Hispanic Heritage Month’ has recently been called into question.
For one, the term ‘Hispanic’ used in Hispanic Heritage Month fails to acknowledge those who have Indigenous or African roots. Not only has the terminology been put into question, but Hispanic Heritage Month has been on the receiving end of criticism for the underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous voices.
When I say this, I don’t mean to sound like a broken record; yes, it’s important that we learn the terminology mentioned in the last section, but even the terminology—Hispanic—generalizes a group that is rich and diverse in cultures. It’s difficult; after all, how could a couple of terms describe over 20 different countries and territories and the people in them accurately? Hispanic Heritage Month gets criticized because it can lead to the generalization of achievements and cultures, leaving the diversity of race, culture, language, and class within the community out of the conversation.
When we say Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s often assumed that every Latinx person speaks Spanish, when many may only speak their Indigenous languages. It also leaves out those that are from Brazil, because Brazilians generally speak Portuguese.
The term ‘Hispanic’ overwhelmingly positions people as just descendants of Spain, and it doesn’t offer a lot of space for the recognition of Indigenous and Black communities.https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-10-02/hispanic-heritage-month-origin-history
Due to this generalization, the erasure of Black and Indigenous Latinx people is seen in many instances. Here’s an example of it being done in “In the Heights” as explained by creator Jay Salazar:
Of course, there are numerous issues that go deeper than just the terminology. When celebrating this month, many fail to acknowledge the true history of Hispanic/Latinx people in the United States. All we see are the accomplishments of people like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Sandra Cisneros, and Roberto Clemente. But we rarely hear of such historic events as the zoot suit riot or the lynchings of Mexican Americans throughout the southwest. Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is an opportunity to learn the diversity and cultures of people who this month represents. It’s an opportunity to take action to support the community.
While the name of the month and how the month is celebrated have been called into question, what remains unquestionable is the resilience of the Hispanic/Latinx community. So let’s discuss some meaningful ways to celebrate and how to be an ally beyond this month, as well as including some resources to get you started.
Meaningful Ways To Celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Month
Hispanic/Latinx Heritage deserves to be celebrated, and there are many ways to celebrate Hispanic/Latinx cultures and stories. Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month has traditionally been celebrated throughout the nation with art shows, festivals, community gatherings, and much more. We discussed in the last section the revisitation of terminology—‘Hispanic’ in ‘Hispanic Heritage Month’—we should also revisit how this month is celebrated.
Champion Hispanic/Latinx Literature
Explore the rich culture of Hispanic/Latinx Americans by reading and investigating diverse books written by Hispanic/Latinx authors this month and throughout the year.
Here are some books to start adding to your reading list:
An African American and Latinx History of the United States
Published in 2018, historian Paul Ortiz’s book retells the history of the United States by centering and contextualizing the role that Black and Latinx Americans played in its formation.
The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas
The book focuses on an untold part of history: the state-sanctioned lynchings of Mexican Americans carried out by groups of vigilantes and the Texas Rangers in the early part of the 20th century.
Blowout: Sal Castro and the Chicano struggle for Educational Justice
An oral history of the 1968 east L.A. walkouts, a series of student protests that became a flesh point for the Chicano movement.
The House On Mango Street
A story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing for herself who and what she will become.
Learn Learn Learn. Keep Learning.
Reiterating what was said in the last section, learn the true history of Hispanic/Latinx Americans in the United States. Learn about important Latinx figures in history including those with African and Indigenous roots. The first step to real change is educating yourself on not just the history but how history plays a role in present-day issues. Learn about different Hispanic/Latinx cultures. Again, this month encompasses a very diverse population of individuals that many believe to be a monolith, which they are not.
Looking to educate yourself more about the Hispanic/Latinx community? The best way is through listening to their stories, how they describe their culture, their family, their traditions. Listen to them and utilize the language and terminology they ask you to use.
Break Barriers All Year Long
Don’t limit yourself to just one month. While it’s important that a certain time is dedicated in the year to celebrate and highlight underrepresented voices, we must continue that excitement of Hispanic/Latinx culture not just within this month or when a hashtag is trending but throughout the year.
Get Involved And Advocate For Change
Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is a call to action to embrace and improve the lives of everyone living in Hispanic/Latinx communities. It’s a time to celebrate the progress that has been made towards giving visibility and elevating voices that are often left unheard. It’s also a time to learn about and address issues that the Hispanic/Latinx community face; issues such as immigration policies, criminal justice reform, continued racism and discrimination, and so on.
So, the best way to celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month? Strive for change and be prepared to act using these resources below:
Donate, Volunteer, and Follow Hispanic/Latinx-Led Grassroots Organizations
- NALEO Educational Fund
- NALEO Educational Fund facilitates full Latino participation in the American political process, from citizenship to public service.
- Vote Latino
- Vote Latino is a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy.
- United We Dream
- United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country. We create welcoming spaces for young people—regardless of immigration status—to support, engage, and empower them to make their voices heard and win!