Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15. During this time we celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Why do we celebrate this heritage month from the middle of one month to the middle of another month, you ask?
September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively.
Hispanic Heritage Month started as a week-long celebration in 1968, and was later was expanded to a month in 1987 when U.S. Representative Esteban E. Torres of California proposed the expansion. More recently, Hispanic Heritage Month has become known as Latinx Heritage Month.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we at YP Media wanted to share some lesser-known parts of history, acknowledge the importance and contributions of Latinx Americans, and share some of the ways you support the Latinx community and help their voices be heard.
Lesser-Known Parts of History
While there are many significant parts of Latinx American history there are two, in particular, we will focus on.
First up, the Bracero Program.
During World War II, the U.S. through an agreement with Mexico operated the Bracero Program. Braceros were Mexican nationals who temporarily migrated to the U.S. to help fill labor shortages between 1942 to 1964. As part of an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, they worked on farms and fields, mines, and railroads. During this time more than 4.5 million Mexican nationals participated in the Bracero Program. The program turned out to be a huge human rights violation with participants being “fumigated,” being paid hardly any wages, and living in buildings with dirt floors and more people than beds. I will get more into this program in a future article.
Next up, the Chicano Movement.
In the mid-1960s, the Chicano civil/ human rights and liberation movement, also known as El Movimiento began.
Inspired by the Black Power Movement and by prior acts of resistance among people of Mexican descent including the United Farmworkers and, especially that of Pachucos in the 1940s and 1950s, much of the Chicano Movement was modeled on the Black Power Movement but focused on mostly on Latino’s and Hispanics.
The movement had 3 goals: restoration of land, rights for farmworkers, and education reforms. The Chicano Movement took place during the same period as the Black Power movement and a number of those participating in the Chicano Movement participated in the sit-ins as part of fighting for black and brown rights.
Contributions to the United States
To understand the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos it is important to put in perspective just how much of the US population is made up of Hispanics and Latinos and put to rest some misconceptions.
Hispanics and Latinos are the nation’s second-fastest-growing racial or ethnic group after Asian Americans. As of 2019, there were 60.6 million Hispanics in the U.S., up from 50.7 million in 2010. In 2019, Hispanics made up 18% of the U.S. population, up from 16% in 2010 and just 5% in 1970.
Unlike what you hear from politicians and some media, according to Pew Research, four-in-five Latinos are U.S. citizens. As of 2018, about 80% of Latinos living in the country were U.S. citizens. This includes people born in the U.S. and its territories (including Puerto Rico), people born abroad to American parents, and immigrants who have become naturalized citizens.
Another common myth has to do with what Latinos and Hispanics contribute to the economy. We hear a lot of rhetoric about people stealing jobs and not contributing, when in fact in 2017, the total economic output (or GDP) of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States was $2.3 trillion. To put that in perspective, if U.S. Latinos were an independent country, their GDP would be the eighth largest in the world. Larger even than the GDPs of Brazil, Italy or Canada.
There are a number of famous Latinos and Hispanics who have helped shape our country and paved the way for Latino and Hispanics in the future including but not limited to:
Civil Rights Activists: Cesar Chavez and Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales
Politicians: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julian Castro
Supreme Court Judge: Sonia Sotomayor
Playwright, Composer & Producer: Lin-Manuel Miranda (play Hamilton)
Painter: Frida Kahlo
First Hispanic Woman in Space: Ellen Ochoa
Musicians: Carlos Santana, JLo, Selena, Gloria Estefan, Pitbull, Ricky Martin, and Marc Anthony
Athletes: Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, and Oscar De La Hoya
Actors: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Mario Lopez, Eva Longoria, Aubrey Plaza, and Cameron Diaz.
Support the Latinx Community
Now that you understand some of the history and contributions of the Hispanic and Latino community want to know how you can support them?
Check out Intentionalist for Ten Ways to Support Latinx-Owned Businesses.
Beyond Words will also be modifying some of their event programming to feature community leaders from the Latinx community.
Educate yourself on Hispanic and Latino history, culture, and discrimination.
Support or volunteer at nonprofits that support the Hispanic and Latino community.