Every year Americans celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose heritage is from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central and South America from September 15-October 15. These dates derive from the independence of the Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua from Spain which occurred on September 15, 1821. Mexico also celebrates its independence on September 16th and Chile on September 18th, which falls directly within the dates of Hispanic Heritage Month. The observation of Hispanic heritage began as a week under President Johnson in 1968, before President Reagan expanded it to a month in the year 1988.
As of 2013, approximately 54 million American citizens are Hispanic and the number is expected to rise to 128.8 million by the year 2060. Hispanic Americans are as diverse as the countries they come from. These people have contributed in countless ways in the US by paving the way for other Hispanics to follow and reaching out to participate in the arts, music, political movements, and bring more diversity into the melting pot that is the United States of America. Yet some people are still confused on what being “Hispanic” actually means.
The term is used to describe someone who is or has heritage from a Spanish-speaking country. They’re often viewed as migrant workers, cheap laborers, or non-English speaking individuals and that stereotype couldn’t be more incorrect. Hispanic culture has and always will have a positive effect on American culture. One of the earliest examples of this kind of impact goes back to the formation of the United States of America; Bernardo de Galvez, governor of the Louisiana Territory, sent supplies such as gunpowder, blankets, medicine, and more to the armies of George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Nearly two centuries later, a court-case known as Mendez v. Westminster ruled that segregation of Mexican American children from the public schools system in California was unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment. This court-case paved the way for Brown vs Board in 1954.
Another important Hispanic politician is Sonia Sotomayor, who not only was the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice but also the first Hispanic woman to join the court. On June 26th she was part of the 5-4 ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. But Hispanics have not just impacted our society politically, they’ve contributed culturally through sports, art, music, dance, and food. From Americans singing “Feliz Navidad” every December thanks to Jose Feliciano or Frida Kahlo making statements on the mixing of Mexican-American culture or how salsa would never have developed in New York without its influences from the mambo and cha-cha-cha. Even popular culture celebrities such as Shakiera, Pitbull, Eva Longoria, and George Lopez have made profound impacts in American music, acting, and comedy.
This year, President Obama signed a proclamation in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. He encourages Americans to celebrate the profound influences of Hispanic cultures, from marching for social justice with Cesar Chavez to the continued and inspired drive to achieve the American dream of liberty and equality for all. Hispanics are quickly becoming the foundation for the economics, politics, and culture of American society. It’s time for America to acknowledge and respect the contributions of Hispanics. This month gives every American the chance to truly do just that- recognize how important their culture is to our own, how essential our diversity is, and how grateful we should be for the advancements of society by every cultural group.
If you’re interested in learning more about Hispanic history or culture, you can check out the display located by the printers in Hutchins Library.
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