What you Should Know About Hispanic Heritage Month

September 2023

Each year from September 15 to October 15, millions of Americans celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a great time of year to learn about what it means to be Hispanic (itself a complicated label) and take time out to recognize the achievements Hispanic communities have made in the US and the world. Here’s what you need to know about this important month.

What Is Hispanic Heritage Month?

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to honor the history, culture, and civic contributions of Americans with heritage from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It began as a “Hispanic Heritage Week”’ in 1968, then was expanded to a month-long observance in 1988. This period shines a spotlight on American Latino communities and its first day coincides with the independence days of several, including the following:

  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua 
  • Mexico (September 16)
  • Chile (September 18)

Other Hispanic Heritage Month Facts. Here are some key things to know about Hispanic Heritage Month.

The Problematic Term “Hispanic”

In observing this important month, it’s essential to start with its name. “Hispanic” is a problematic pan-ethnic term that groups all Americans of Mexican or Latin American descent in one category. It was used by President Lyndon Johnson, whose administration implemented the observance in 1968. “Hispanic” has also been entrenched by the US Census beginning in 1980, alienating millions of people of diverse identities and ethnicities as a government-enforced term that fails to acknowledge the individuality of these groups. 

At the same time, the people this umbrella term is intended to cover are also becoming increasingly multiracial and multiethnic. This means that their identities, like those of many other Americans, are fluid and complex, and can’t be defined by any single term. In addition, the descriptor “Hispanic” can be useful for uniting and mobilizing people from countries once colonized by Spain around shared social concerns. Although these facts make the descriptor “Hispanic” more convenient, they don’t necessarily justify the term or make it more accurate. 

In short, we largely continue to use the word “Hispanic” for lack of a better option, whenever we don’t know the exact identity of an individual or group, and when we fail to learn about the rich variety of cultures included in this broad term.

Hispanic Culture Is American Culture — In Ways You May Not Realize

Many of the cultural traditions that define us as Americans are, in fact, the contributions of Mexicans, Latin Americans, and Caribbean groups. Here are a few that may surprise you:

  • Cowboy culture. Cowboy hats, rodeos, and the livelihood of ranching all originated in Spain and Mexico.
  • BBQ. The word “barbecue” is derived from the Spanish word barbacoa and comes from a mix of Spanish and Caribbean traditions.
  • Military service. Hispanic soldiers have served and sacrificed their lives in every American war, domestic and abroad. As of 2017, over 1.2 million American war veterans were of Mexican, Latin American, or Caribbean descent.
  • The “mainstream” population. Hispanic Americans make up over 18% of the US population, making this group the second largest (so-labeled) demographic in the nation.

Hispanic Heritage Month Activities

Here are some great ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month:

  • Attend a local related festival.
  • Visit an art show or gallery that features Hispanic creations.
  • Read fiction or nonfiction written by a Hispanic author, such as Young People’s Poet Laureate Elizabeth Acevedo, or watch a movie created by a Hispanic filmmaker. You may already have seen a few by the legendary Guillermo del Toro, for example, who is Mexican.
  • Try some new-to-you authentic dishes from Mexico, Central or South America, or the Caribbean. Remember that there is no single cuisine for any country, and you can explore a wide variety of styles from different regions.
  • Make a point of learning some Spanish or Portuguese.
  • Familiarize yourself with some indigenous and modern Mexican, Latin American, or Caribbean historical timelines. Make it a multi-sensory experience you’ll remember by visiting a relevant museum exhibit.

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With ARCC

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