The month of September has brought us National Hispanic Heritage Month, when Americans can celebrate the history and culture of people from across the country with ancestry from countries such as Mexico, Chile, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. It’s a chance to learn more about the 62.1 million Hispanic people living in the United States and their contributions to American life and society.
As part of the celebration, ET will take a look at some of our favorite Latinx influencers making an impact in their fields and communities. From singers like Kali Uchis and Emily Estefan to actresses Rachel Zegler and Sasha Calle, these people are using their platforms to highlight the issues they care about most.
Hispanic Heritage Month was first observed in 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a week of recognition from September 15 to October 16—specifically those dates were chosen because they mark the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (September 15), Mexico (September 16), and Chile (September 18). The month was lengthened to a full 30 days under President George H.W. Bush in 1989.
Amid growing controversy over the term Hispanic, experts say that it’s important to remember that Hispanic Heritage Month was a demand for greater inclusion and recognition of people from across the United States with a shared heritage. Many Americans still struggle to recognize and acknowledge the diversity within the Hispanic community, particularly the fact that not all Latinos are Mexican or even Spanish. A more accurate way to describe people is to identify them as either Hispanic or Latino, with Latino referring specifically to those from countries in Central and South America where Spanish is spoken; Hispanic would encompass those from the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, but it wouldn’t include Brazil.
NBC News Latino reports that in the 1930s, when door-to-door Census Bureau workers visited homes of people from Spanish-speaking countries, the government only recorded the person’s place of birth or family origin as “Mexican.” By 1970, after pressure from Hispanic advocates, Congress passed a law requiring the Census to ask whether a person was Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Other Spanish or Central or South American.
But for some Hispanics, the word Latino is more inclusive than Hispanic. Fernanda He, who has ancestry from both Puerto Rico and China, tells USA TODAY that when she hears Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated, it feels “like they’re forgetting the Asian, black and indigenous Hispanics.” This is why she and other advocates work to educate people about the diverse and complex history of Latinos throughout the country year-round—by sharing their stories, creating public events, or highlighting their work on social media. You can do the same by exploring our new Hispanic Heritage Month topic page, which is filled with exhibitions, programs, and museum collections that help to bring the rich histories of the nation’s Latino people into focus. It’s just one way that the Smithsonian is honoring their legacy, every day of the year.