In the United States, Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich cultures and contributions of Americans with roots in Mexico, Central America, and South America. But despite its good intentions, Hispanic Heritage Month has raised difficult questions about what it really means to be Hispanic. In particular, some people with Latin American roots say the term is limiting and divisive because it places too much emphasis on Spanish language as a marker of identity. It can also feel exclusionary—particularly to Afro-Latinos and indigenous communities. Whether the term Hispanic or Latino is used, these groups deserve to have their needs and stories heard.
The debate over hispanic heritage is especially thorny because the term is a blanket pan-ethnic category that encompasses more than 62 million people with complex identities. This group includes former NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway musical Hamilton. But it also includes people with deep connections to the Caribbean islands or whose families migrated to the United States over generations, as well as those with mixed identities, such as Fernanda He, who says being labeled Hispanic erases her family’s history.
Hispanic Heritage Month was first celebrated as a weeklong commemoration in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and it was extended to a month in 1988 by Ronald Reagan. It falls on Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, a period that is chosen because it coincides with the independence days of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, as well as Mexican Independence Day on the 16th.
Today, Hispanic Heritage Month is widely celebrated with festivals and events across the country. It is an opportunity to share stories about these diverse communities while promoting respect for inclusion and diversity in the United States. But there are still many challenges to be overcome.
What is the best way to talk about hispanic heritage?
Hispanic is a word that is rooted in the Spanish language and has a long history of being associated with colonial rule. In general, Hispanic is a better choice when talking about language and culture, such as in a Spanish-speaking community or an educational setting. Latino is a more inclusive alternative, but it can be confusing for those who don’t know that Latinx is a gender-neutral term and doesn’t end in “o” or “a.”
Ultimately, the best term to use may depend on where you are and what you’re doing. If the group or person you’re describing has a strong connection to the Caribbean islands, for example, it’s likely that Caribbean would be the more accurate choice. But the most important thing is to always be aware of how the language you’re using can affect the audience.