With a population of more than 60 million, Hispanic Heritage Month is an important time to applaud the contributions of the nation’s largest minority group. Hispanics have brought their one-of-a-kind perspective to different spaces, from cuisine and movies to sports and politics. From Jennifer Lopez to Guillermo del Toro and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Hispanics bring a unique identity that’s constantly redefining America.
Despite being a thriving community, Hispanics still struggle with wealth gaps and discrimination. Surveys show that families with Latino ancestors are five times less likely to be wealthy than white families. Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the community and raise awareness about its struggles.
Hispanic heritage is a term used to describe a person who’s a citizen of the United States and has ancestors from Spain, Mexico, Central and South America or the Caribbean. In general, Hispanics are the second-largest racial group in the country and make up 18% of the population.
As a result, many educators use Hispanic Heritage Month as an opportunity to teach students about the diverse cultures and histories of the broader Latinx population. Hispanic Americans have made significant contributions to our country and the world, and their stories need to be told, said Luisa Godinez-Puig, an equity scholar with nonprofit research organization Urban Institute.
It’s also important to remember that there are ways to celebrate and honor Hispanic heritage throughout the year, experts say. Key recommends engaging with books, films and documentaries — a few suggestions from her include PBS’ “Latino USA” documentary series and the podcast “Latina USA” — and visiting museums that feature Latino content. Museums like the Smithsonian have online learning resources, including profiles of Hispanic patriots in military history.
Camacho says that while some people complain about Hispanic Heritage Month, she’s happy to see the community’s culture and history celebrated. She hopes that with each passing year, Hispanic Heritage Month becomes more inclusive and uplifting.
The terms Hispanic, Latino and Latina can be confusing because they all have different meanings, but the main distinction is based on language. Hispanic refers to someone who’s from a Spanish-speaking country or culture, which excludes Brazil, where Portuguese is the official language. Latino and Latina are more broadly used, referring to anyone who has connections to the region, including Brazil.
Ultimately, the way you choose to identify is up to you. Regardless of how you define yourself, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to learn more about your neighbors and friends, Key said. So, “take advantage of this month to start a conversation with your coworker or the cashier at your local grocer.” After all, Hispanic Heritage Month is about more than just celebrations; it’s about understanding and appreciating each other. That’s what really matters.