As the national celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off this week, we wanted to take a moment to explore some of the thorny questions that come with lumping together roughly 62 million people with complex identities under one catchall term. We’re used to communities getting their own months, like Black History Month in February and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.
The first question is a simple one: what do we mean by Hispanic? Generally, Hispanic describes people with a heritage from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. It can be further narrowed to include people who identify as Hispanic or Latino, or both. It can also be expanded to encompass the broader group of people who are of Latin American descent or background, whether or not they are Hispanic.
Using the word Hispanic, then, can help us understand the cultural and historical context of the people who are celebrated in this month. It’s a way to highlight that these are people who have helped shape and form the United States. And it’s a way to remember that while the contributions of Hispanics have been great, they also face challenges in the United States.
In a society where many minorities are underrepresented, it’s important to use language that is inclusive and accurate. We also have to consider how the words we use impact our readers. The term Hispanic can be derogatory, especially when it’s used to describe people of mixed race or ethnicities. For example, if someone has light skin and dark hair they are often stereotyped as “Hispanic.” And it’s easy to overlook that Hispanics aren’t the only ones who experience discrimination or prejudice.
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of people from South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean to American culture, and their work and legacy is visible all over the country. It’s also a time to learn more about the struggles that many members of this community have faced, from the immigration crisis to the need for equal rights for women and children.
We hope that Hispanic Heritage Month will inspire you to support organizations that are helping to address these issues. Organizations like RAICES in Texas, which provides free and low-cost legal services for immigrant children and families, are doing critical work to provide both short- and long-term solutions.
There are plenty of ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in your classroom, including reading about the rich history of the region, presenting about the contributions of specific individuals and groups, and connecting with communities. PBS Learning Media has a collection of short, history-centered videos and primary source sets that are perfect for the classroom. And for a bilingual and multicultural listening experience, check out TED en Espa