From September 15th to October 15th, America celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month every year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
During this month, we celebrate the accomplishments of notable Hispanic/Latinx* individuals, their histories and cultures, and their contributions to society. It is a month of recognition in which we honor the diversity of our Latinx communities. But what exactly does this mean, how did it begin, and why does it start in the middle of one month and end in another? Let’s find out.
First, we need to travel back in time a few decades. It was the 1960’s in the United States, and society was changing. At the time, the country had seen a period of unrest and increased civil activism. Leaders like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta had brought increasing awareness to the plight of Latinx workers in America, especially those working in agriculture. Issues like unfair wages and dangerous working conditions among migrant farm workers had led to events such as strikes and boycotts of crops.
A Congressman named George Brown, who represented part of Los Angeles and the surrounding valley, wanted to recognize the importance and contributions of his Latinx communities. In 1968, he led a movement to officially recognize Hispanic Heritage Week and took his proposal to Congress.
The week was officially recognized by President Lyndon B. Johnson and eventually grew to a month-long celebration over time.
So why did this celebration begin in the middle of September? Well, it so happens that September 15th is the Independence Day for five Latinx countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16th, and Chile celebrates theirs on September 18th. Choosing this date seemed like a natural kickoff point to celebrate these countries, their cultures, and history. By extending the celebration to an entire month, we give ourselves more time to highlight important events, figures, and contributions of the Latinx/Hispanic community. For example, did you know that the following things were invented or developed by a Latinx or Hispanic person?
- Color television
- The first version of an e-reader
- The CAPTCHA (think of that next time you have to click all the squares with traffic lights!)
- Artificial hearts
- Ballpoint pens
- Electric brakes
Latinx or Hispanic?
Finally, let’s circle back to those terms, as mentioned earlier: * Latinx versus Hispanic. What is the difference between a Latinx person and a Hispanic person? Although often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference. “Latinx” is an inclusive way of describing someone or something from Latin American countries. Because Spanish is an inherently gendered language, “Latino” uses the masculine form of the word and has been used to identify both men and women. In more recent years, the term “Latinx” has emerged as a non-binary way to identify someone or something of Latin American descent. Additionally, while many people assume that all Latin American countries primarily speak Spanish, Latinx communities encompass a variety of cultures and languages. This includes everything from indigenous languages to Spanish, Portuguese, and French. The term Latinx can encompass people from diverse regions and countries such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Guatemala, the Caribbean, and more.
By contrast, “Hispanic” is a more specific term denoting someone with Spanish heritage. Because not all Latinx folks speak Spanish or identify as Spanish descendants, the term “Hispanic” may seem less inclusive. Some folks may identify as Latino, but not Hispanic. However, because the terminology can be confusing, and in order to be as inclusive as possible, we will be referring to this month as Hispanic Heritage Month and highlighting people from both Latin American and Spanish descent.
Check back for more blogs spotlighting notable figures, inventions, and literature from these communities over the next month. Be sure to check out our NCW Libraries catalog to get a head start on all our diverse resources celebrating the cultures in our communities! And don’t miss our NCW Libraries staff at Fiestas Mexicanas this Friday and Saturday in Wenatchee!