Independence Day for Costa Ricans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans, which is celebrated on September 15, marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs until October 15 each year. Mexico’s Independence Day falls on September 16, Chile’s on September 18 and Belize’s on September 21. Here’s a quick look at how the observance started, and why it’s such a good thing.
Americans commemorate the occasion annually by celebrating the histories, traditions and contributions of persons of Spanish, Mexican, Caribbean, Central and South American origin. President Lyndon Johnson was first to declare Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and the celebration was extended by President Ronald Reagan twenty years later to cover a thirty-day period.
The month is celebrated through various sites, publications and events. For example, it is observed in libraries across the nation with storytelling, fiesta dancers and acts put on by Mariachi bands. Schoolteachers frequently incorporate activities all through this month to help children develop an understanding of Hispanic culture.
Many teachers also have their students read books about prominent Hispanic Americans or devise posters that emphasize the contributions of Hispanics and Latinos. Some students may like making crafts that originated from Spanish-speaking countries as well. Papel picado and piñatas are excellent choices. Adults can learn to cook foods from various Hispanic or Latin American countries.
A Hispanic is defined by the Census Bureau as a person from a Spanish-speaking nation who lives in the United States, regardless of ethnicity or country of origin. In 2008, Hispanics and persons of Hispanic origin made up 15% of the country’s residents. The Hispanic minority group is the fastest-growing in the United States. With a population that’s even higher than that of African-Americans, they were also the largest minority group.
A lot of Hispanic Americans have ancestors from the civilizations of the original nations of the Americas – including the Arawaks and Tainos of the Northern Caribbean, the Aztecs and Mayas of Central America, and the Incas of South America.
The first Spanish settlement in the United States occurred in Florida in 1513 with explorer Ponce de Leon. Long before Captain John Smith encountered Pocahontas, as far back as 1526, the Spanish were sailing up the Atlantic Coast through the Chesapeake Bay, which at the time was called Bahía de Santa María. Other early settlers included Párfilo Narfáez and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, who landed at Galveston Bay along with a few hundred Spanish soldiers in 1528.
Here in Louisiana, in 1763 the Treaty of Paris ceded the territories west of the Mississippi River, including New Orleans, to the Spanish. Almost all the existing eighteenth century buildings in the Vieux Carré French Quarter date back to this Spanish era.
According to the US Census Bureau, at present, over 44 million people in the United States are of Hispanic origin. This month gives us a chance to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans, and learn about the histories, accomplishments and cultures from which they came. Non-Hispanics are also given the chance to increase their awareness of the cultural history and contributions of a segment of people that comprise a large part the American population.