As a Cuban American, what does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to me? For my family, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the significant contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the U.S. Whether it’s food, art, fashion, sports, literature, or music, our influence on the land we now call home has become a part of everyday American culture.
DYK? The Hispanic population, which includes people of any race, was 60.6 million in 2019 and increased to 62.1 million by 2020, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority. Hispanics constituted 18.5 percent of the nation’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As we celebrate the 53 year of Hispanic Heritage Month, we acknowledge the rapid growth of Hispanic populations in America. Many are children and families, with 6 percent under 5 years old and 22 percent under 18. Over 1 million of us, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, have chosen to call Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas home.
“The Latino community and Latino history is a fundamental part of American history,” Emily Key, director of education at the Smithsonian Latino Center, told CNN. “And recognizing that and understanding that are key reasons why this month is important.”
The official national observance of Hispanic Heritage Month started in 1968 when President Lyndon B. Johnson designated a week to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the U.S. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the weeklong observance to an entire month, and it was subsequently enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988. The start date of September 15 was significant because it’s also the anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, and Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within the 30 days. The national observance in the U.S. extends until October 15.
Although many Hispanics are bound by commonalities, such as values, history, and language, we are many races and ethnicities from different lands with rich histories and cultures, each with unique identities and customs. Some of us are recent immigrants or second, third or fourth-generation Americans. We come to America from many different countries in the North, South, Central America, and the Caribbean. Some of us only speak our native language, while others are bilingual, English-only speakers, and/or speak indigenous languages in addition to English and Spanish. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2019, 72 percent of Latinos ages 5 and older spoke English proficiently, up from 59 percent in 2000.
Hispanic Heritage Month embraces our diversity and highlights the many faces and shades of our community. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity to share our experiences, struggles, and daily life with our fellow Americans.
As early as 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that the Hispanic school-age population will increase by 166 percent by 2050, while the non-Hispanic school-age population will grow by 4 percent. Between fall 2009 and fall 2018, the percentage of public school students who were Hispanic increased from 22 to 27 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The rapid growth of the Hispanic community creates the necessity for educational systems to meet the needs of multilingual learners. Several states continue to improve their language assistance programs to ensure better educational outcomes for Hispanic students.
For example, the Maryland State Department of Education is committed to addressing and supporting the unique needs of the state’s multilingual children and families through a grant-funded partnership with WIDA Early Years, an evidence-based program focused specifically on language development. On the local level, organizations such as Centro Nia, Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center, and Johns Hopkins Centro Sol offer advocacy, legal and referral services, health, and educational resources, and family engagement.
We can celebrate the Hispanic community by supporting the role of families in children’s education. Organizations such as the National Education Association and Scholastic offer lesson plans, book recommendations, activities, and other resources for teachers and providers to help educate students about the contributions of Hispanic Americans to U.S. culture.
One thing is for sure about my culture; we love to celebrate! Below you will find a variety of national and local events and activities to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with your family!
- The Library of Congress Hispanic Division joins the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs to host a virtual, pre-recorded ceremony honoring the winners of the 2020 Américas Award for Latin American, Hispanic-American, and LatinX creators and their work in youth and children’s literature.
- The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration’s festivities include a Virtual Pajama Party for children and families featuring Sylvia & Aki, an inspiring book based on a true story.
- The Festival at Cultural Crossing will celebrate all cultures with a family art day.
- Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration: Afro-Cuban All Stars performs a virtual concert of Cuban music.
- Discover 17 Awesome Ways to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
For more Hispanic Heritage Month events, check out the MFE Events Page or your local public library and parks department. For English Language Learners (ELL) resources or resources in Spanish, visit the MFE ELL Resource section of the website, including the Hispanic Heritage Month 101 and the Faces of U.S. Public School Classrooms.