What Is Hispanic Heritage Month, and How Is It Celebrated?
We break down this monthlong celebration (September 15 to October 15) that recognizes the diverse Latinx community in the United States and the varied and meaningful contributions they bring to our country and culture.
Hispanic Heritage Month highlights the achievements and contributions of Latinxs across the United States—and beyond. While most people know about pop icons including Jennifer Lopez, Selena, and Demi Lovato; political powerhouses like Sonia Sotomayor and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, legends like EGOT winner Rita Moreno; sports heroes including Oscar de la Hoya and Mariano Rivera, and other famous Hispanic Americans, Hispanic Heritage Month shines a light on the broader (and lesser-known) accomplishments of Latinxs across genres. From Latinxs lighting up Hollywood (in front of and behind the screen) in movies to books penned by LatinX authors, to diverse Latin foods and music and so much more, Latinxs have contributed to every facet of American society. Read on to learn more about what is Hispanic Heritage Month and how Latinxs have helped define American culture.
What is Hispanic Heritage Month?
According to the Hispanic Heritage Month official website, it is observed: “by celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.” For generations, Latinxs have contributed to the food, music, business, science, and culture that we know as American, and the 30 days that make up Hispanic Heritage Month each fall is just one opportunity to showcase these achievements.
Latinxs are the country’s second-largest racial or ethnic group, behind white non-Hispanics according to the latest 2020 census. Latinxs now account for 18.7 percent of the U.S. population up 2.4 percent in the previous decade with 62.1 million Latinxs living across America with big concentrations in New York, California, Texas, and Florida.
When is Hispanic Heritage Month?
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15. Its timing coincides with the Independence Day of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua which are all celebrated on September 15. Mexico, Chile, and Belize also celebrate their respective independence days in that same time frame. In addition, on October 12, (Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day in the United States) Mexico celebrates Día de la Raza (Race Day) “in recognition of the mixed indigenous and European heritage of Mexico.”
Hispanic Heritage Month is similar to other months of recognition and celebrations like Native American History Heritage Month in November, African American History Month in February, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, and LGBTQ Pride Month in June.
What’s the history behind Hispanic Heritage Month?
Hispanic Heritage Month first started as a week when it was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. According to Congressional history, the week was created to bring attention and awareness to “Hispanic-American contributions to the United States,” along with networking opportunities for “grassroots and civil rights activists inside and outside the Hispanic-American community.”
Almost 20 years later, Representative Esteban Torres of California, a proud Mexican-American, submitted a bill to expand it into Hispanic Heritage Month in 1987 saying supporters of the bill “want the American people to learn of our heritage. We want the public to know that we share a legacy with the rest of the country, a legacy that includes artists, writers, Olympic champions, and leaders in business, government, cinema, and science.” That bill didn’t pass, but Senator Paul Simon of Illinois submitted a similar bill that President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988 creating now what is Hispanic Heritage Month.
How is Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated?
From sporting events to Google Doodles, to nearly every branch of government from The Library of Congress to the National Park Service, many companies, neighborhoods, schools, and individuals celebrate Latinx achievement with parades, lectures, or events. This year’s celebrations include the Smithsonian Institute’s “Young Portrait Explorers” month-long virtual workshop series that teaches children about outstanding Latinxs including Mexican-American activists Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and Dominican-American baseball player Pedro Martinez. Another don’t miss is the annual Hispanic Heritage Foundation star-studded gala that honors Latinx trailblazers like Ricky Martin, Jessica Alba, Linda Rondstadt, and more. This year, the 34th annual Hispanic Heritage Foundation awards will broadcast on PBS on October 8 and will honor musical legend Carlos Santana and feature a performance by popular Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis.
Who celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month?
From music by Cardi. B and Bad Bunny, to clothing by Carolina Herrera and Narciso Rodriguez, to the music and movies of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Latinxs celebrate, explore, redefine, and reclaim their Latinx identity every day besides during Hispanic Heritage Month. And while the 30-day celebration focuses on highlighting the contributions of Americans with roots in Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America,” some question how feasible it is to celebrate so many in such a short amount of time.
Some are also calling for a rebrand of Hispanic Heritage Month to Latinx Heritage Month to shift focus away from Spanish colonialism (and its harmful legacy of genocide and cultural erasure) and to be more inclusive of indigenous, Black, and non-binary Latinxs who are not always centered in these celebrations. In a New York Times column, Saudi Garcia—a racial justice activist—advocated for Hispanic Heritage Month going “beyond celebration” to include more meaningful conversations that “will move the communities forward.”
Others also question the authenticity of some companies and organizations who “celebrate” this month for optics, but don’t focus on the issues facing the community like the fact that Latina women make less than anyone else at 55¢ to the dollar a White man makes or that Hispanic men made 14.9 percent less in hourly wages than comparable White men, according to the Economic Policy Insititute.
The takeaway might be that Hispanic Heritage Month is a great starting place to get educated on the work and contributions of Latinxs, while we continue to celebrate and center the needs of Latinxs all year long.
- National Hispanic American Heritage Month
- United States Census Bureau: “Improved Race and Ethnicity Measures Reveal U.S. Population is Much More Multi-Racial”
- History, Arts, & Archives: United States House of Representatives: “The Creation and Evolution of the National Hispanic Heritage Celebration”
- The New York Times: “Does Hispanic Heritage Month Need a Rebrand
- Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day
- Economic Policy Insititute: “The Hispanic–white wage gap has remained wide and relatively steady”