Hispanic Heritage Month takes place September 15 to October 15, and it is a time for Americans to celebrate the contributions, diverse cultures and extensive histories of American Latinos. The observance began as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson, and it was expanded to a month by Ronald Reagan in 1988 after Congress passed the bill to do so.
Hispanics are the second-largest population in the United States, and as a group they produce more economic output than Brazil or Italy.(link is external) Despite this, Hispanics are still often left out of the national conversation and their history is rarely taught in schools. In fact, a new study(link is external) finds that high school students across the country are often not learning about their own Latino history.
Whether you are an educator or parent, there are many ways to bring Hispanic culture into the classroom. Explore art from Hispanic artists like Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali, or read about famous Hispanic leaders like Cesar Chavez. The Smithsonian offers a variety of lessons on topics like these and more.
You can also celebrate Hispanic culture by visiting historic sites across the country, which are preserved and interpreted by the Department of the Interior. The site map(link is external) will help you find a location near you. During your visit, you can learn about the rich history of people who built this country, from early explorers to modern-day community leaders.
While you’re at it, consider a thorny question: What is Hispanic heritage exactly? The term was first used by the Census Bureau to identify an overlooked section of the population. At door-to-door Census counters, people would check a box labeled “Hispanic” if they were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or any other person who had ancestors from Spain or any of the countries now known as Latin America.
Today, the word Hispanic is used mainly to refer to anyone who descends from Spanish-speaking countries or speaks Spanish as their primary language. However, there are 22 nations and islands that make up Latin America, and their residents have complex identities. That’s why some choose to use the non-gendered terms Latina or Latino, as well as other descriptors such as Chicano, Tejano, Boricua, Afro-Latino and others.
Regardless of how you choose to commemorate the month, it’s important that we all make an effort to recognize this vital part of our country. After all, according to the 2020 Census, one in four children will be Hispanic or Latino. That’s a lot of children to ignore. This National Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s change that.