The History of Hispanic Heritage Month

Updated August 30, 2022 | Factmonster Staff
Hispanic Heritage Month
Source: iStock

If it’s September, then it’s time to wish you a Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! From September 15th to October 15th, people around the country gather to celebrate Latino Americans and the accomplishments of those who identify as having a Hispanic heritage.

So, if you are wondering— what is Hispanic Heritage Month— then you are in the right place! Read on for everything you need to know about the history and importance of this period of remembrance, including some National Hispanic Heritage month facts, its history, and some ways that all people can both honor and celebrate this important historic observance.

Why Do We Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

American heritage is something to be celebrated around the nation, and many special observances have been put into place in order to do so— particularly when it comes to the minorities that have helped to create, strengthen, and protect the United States. 

These include Black History Month, Native American History Month, Women’s History Month, and LGBTQ+ Pride Month, among many others. And that’s exactly where the period of time in September and October set aside to commemorate and celebrate those of Latinx communities comes in. 

Not only does this time give us an opportunity to recognize the contributions, milestones, and monumental accomplishments of people who identify as having Hispanic heritage, but it also memorializes various Latin American Independence Day achievements and Hispanic culture as a whole.

What Is Considered Hispanic Origin?

In order to fully understand the impact and importance of a dedicated month for the minorities that we are discussing today, let’s take a look at some facts about America’s Hispanic population and its origin.

According to federal agencies that include the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the United States Census Bureau, the ethnic classification of “Hispanic or Latino” includes persons of Cuban, Central American, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, South American, or other Spanish descent.

More specifically, there are 20 Hispanic countries and 1 territory that fall under this Hispanic Americans and Latinx category of ethnicity, including the following Caribbean and Latin American countries:

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Puerto Rico
  • Spain
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

However, there is no black-and-white definition of who is a person of Hispanic origin in official capacities. In fact, in 1976, the US Congress passed the sole legislation Public Law 94-311 that gave parameters for collecting ethnic data across the nation— but even this law only specifies “Americans of Spanish origin or descent” when it comes to Hispanic minorities.

The consensus seems to be that should a person believe they are of Hispanic descent, they are free to use self-identification to categorize themselves as such— often depending on how many generations have existed in the United States and how close individuals feel to their Hispanic or Latino roots.

Indeed, Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve as a Justice on the US Supreme Court, summarizes this well, saying: “I became Latina by the way I love and live my life. My family showed me by their example how wonderful and vibrant life is, and how…magical it is to have a Latina soul.”

The Origins of Hispanic Heritage Month

In the beginning, Hispanic Heritage Month was not as extensive. It started out as a one-week period of commemoration for a variety of minority groups in the United States, all of Hispanic origin. 

In 1968, this original observance was called National Hispanic Heritage Week and was legislated by Los Angeles Representative Edward Roybal, and signed into action by President Lyndon Johnson in his Presidential Proclamation 3869. Later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed new legislation that extended the week-long observance into a full month period, choosing September 15th as the start date.

This is an interesting decision, making National Hispanic Heritage Month span across two different months in the fall season. However, there is indeed a good reason for it— the date was chosen to commemorate the start date of the Mexican War of Independence on September 16th, 1810.

This date was the starting point of the struggle for independence for this Spanish colony, which lasted for 11 years and ended with Mexico becoming its own country, as well as the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. 

Additionally, one of the most important aspects of scheduling National Hispanic Heritage Month at this time was making it coincide with “The Grito de Dolores”, or, “The Cry of Dolores”— a rallying cry for independence that first rang out in the early hours of September 16th, 1810, according to the Library of Congress.

Today, every US president marks the occasion by issuing a new Presidential Proclamation from Washington, D.C. to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, and we continue to honor Spanish-speaking and Latino community contributions to this great nation, and the world.

How to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

During Hispanic Heritage Month, people can find many different ways to commemorate and celebrate with the plethora of Latin communities across the country. From family to the wider community, you can honor this time and enrich yourself at the same time.

Hispanic Heritage Month Activities

To fully enjoy the experience of different traditions, why not spend a day celebrating Hispanic culture? Download delicious Latin American recipes, have fun with some Hispanic national holidays, support a local Hispanic-owned business, or expand family games night to include Dominos or a Mexican Bingo game called Loteria. You could even try your hand at learning some Spanish!

You can also take a virtual tour of important heritage sites, such as Mexico City, the Cabrillo National Monument, and the Teotihuacan Pyramid, or other key historical locations that have stood the test of time and various conflicts as Hispanic peoples fought for freedom. 

And finally, if you want to become more involved in the community, Jose Antonio Tijerino, president of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, suggests volunteering or enhancing public awareness of minority struggles that still continue to this day.

Hispanic Heritage Resources and Moving Forward

Keep yourself informed and up-to-date with some of these excellent resources, just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month!

The United States Census Bureau compiles information on the US Hispanic population; the Smithsonian Institution hosts a variety of events for the month; and you can learn more about the migration of Mexican Americans and their communities via the Library of Congress.

Additionally, if you are interested in learning more about Spanish surnames and their origins, check out A Complete List of Spanish Last Names. Source these great literary resources for Hispanic Heritage Month books, and for some fun, try your hand at a quiz, including Hispanic American People, Hispanic American Athletes, or Hispanic America Geography!

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