The coming weeks are a festive and celebratory time as we honor and recognize Hispanic and Latino cultures, accomplishments, and history through Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
It’s important to note that this month is not only referring to people of Mexican heritage, although Mexican Americans are an important part of the celebration. Hispanics’ and Latinos’ ancestors come from a large array of countries with diverse languages and cultures, including Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Pride in Heritage and History
Many Hispanics and Latinos see this month as an opportunity to celebrate their roots with great pride. Hispanic Heritage Month begins on Sept. 15 because five Latin American countries celebrate their Independence Day on that date: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile, and Belize also celebrate their Independence Days in September. The month ends in mid-October with the National Day of Spain, or el Día de la Hispanidad.
Sadly, the histories of these cultures in their home countries and in America reveal numerous acts of racism, colonialism, and violence. Anti-immigrant discrimination continues to harm Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. today, even though about 19% of the country’s population is Hispanic or Latino and many were born here.
The American government first brought Mexican laborers, known as “braceros,” to the U.S. in 1942 to fill an agricultural worker shortage caused by World War II. This program continued for 22 years with workers often enduring discrimination, exploitation, and unhealthy working conditions.
While it’s important to recognize this history, Hispanic Heritage Month is also a time to celebrate. American culture — our music, food, geographic names, language, and more — has been greatly enriched and influenced by Hispanics and Latinos. At OYA, 12% of our employees and 22% of our youth identify as Latino. We support all of them and look forward to taking time in the coming weeks to learn about and share their cultures.
Influential Hispanic and Latino People
Here are just a few of the countless Hispanic and Latino people who have made a notable impact in our world:
Sonia Sotomayor: Sotomayor is the first woman of color, first Hispanic, and first Latina member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Yale Law School before becoming an assistant district attorney in New York. She served on the U.S. District Court and on the U.S. Court of Appeals before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009.
Guillermo González Camarena: González Camarena was a Mexican electrical engineer who invented the “chromoscopic adapter for television equipment,” an early color television transmission system that made it easier to adapt black-and-white TV equipment to color. A color television system similar to his invention was used by NASA in 1979 to take photos and video of Jupiter.
Frida Kahlo: A Mexican painter known for her self-portraits and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico, Kahlo has become an icon for Chicanos, feminism, and the LGBTQ+ movement. Painting in a surrealist or magical realist style, Kahlo was the first 20th-century Mexican artist to have their work purchased by a major international museum when The Louvre acquired her self-portrait, “The Frame,” in 1939.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: An American artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat was one of the first underground graffiti artists to transition to the fine art market, with his neo-expressionist paintings being exhibited around the world. Successful in the 1980s, Basquiat had a big influence on the art world that continues today. His art is known for commentary on social injustices and class struggles.
Rigoberta Menchú: Menchú is a Quiche Guatemalan human rights activist and feminist who has dedicated her life to fighting for Guatemala’s Indigenous peoples and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the Committee of the Peasant Union, she organized for better conditions for workers and against military oppression. She went on to become widely known as an advocate for Indigenous rights internationally.
Carmen Maria Machado: Machado is a Cuban-American writer whose short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and the Kirkus Prize. She also has published a best-selling memoir, In the Dream House, and wrote a graphic novel, The Low, Low Woods. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and an artist-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania.
Videos: Latino and Hispanic Identity
Here are a few videos we recommend that feature young people talking about their Hispanic and Latino identity:
“Defining Latino: Young People Talk Identity, Belonging,” by NBC News
“Accents,” a poem by Denice Frohman
“Checkmark: Hispanic,” a poem by Arasely Rodriguez
Celebrating This Month
We encourage you to seek out and participate in Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations in your own community, preferably virtual ones so that everyone stays safe from COVID-19. Taking time to look through the links we provided above will also help all of us become more educated about Latino and Hispanic culture.
Thank you for taking the time to learn, listen to people of different backgrounds and identities, and acknowledge the diverse perspectives of Latino and Hispanic in our communities.