During the next thirty days, we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month 2014 in the U.S.A. Nowadays, there are open discussions concerning Hispanics and their contributions to U.S. society. That’s a good thing. It’s overdue.
The “track record” of the U.S. government regarding Latin America and Hispanics in particular, has been mixed in the past at best. Now there’s hope for positive change.
National Hispanic Heritage Month
So, what is National Hispanic Heritage Month? Here’s a brief quote from the U.S. Government website dedicated to this celebration of Hispanic heritage:
“Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402. The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.”
The reality of Hispanic heritage has challenged our society to acknowledge those contributions to the nation we call the United States of America (U.S.A.). Our mission here at HispanicGlobe is about promoting awareness of Hispanic culture and language around the world.
The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency
National Hispanic Heritage became an official observance during the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) administration. Because President Johnson came from the state of Texas, he was keenly aware of the challenges that Hispanics faced in the U.S. LBJ taught public school in Texas to mostly children of Latinos who spoke very little, if any English. Here’s his recollection of teaching those students in a speech he made to the U.S. Congress in 1965 admonishing both houses to pass the Voting Rights Act:
“My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Tex., in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead. . . Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.”
Of course, the legislation passed and he also managed to sign the Bilingual Education Act among other programs. Whether you liked him or his policies, there is no doubt LBJ was a masterful politician and could get Congress to do things that would be the envy of any U.S. President today.
Hispanic/Latino American Origins in the U.S.A.
From an historical point of view, it was not long ago that almost half of the land mass we now call the U.S. had Spanish settlements sprinkled throughout North America. The language was Spanish. Native American tribes learned the language too. The Apache and the Navajo are a few examples.
Spanish Franciscan priests, along with Spanish explorers like Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján, wandered the entire west and southwest of the U.S., establishing churches and settlements as early as the 1500’s. These expeditions introduced one of the most important symbols of the American West, namely the wild horse or mustang (mesteño) of the western plains.
Much of the West was settled and claimed by Spain, then Mexico. Some of the largest and economically influential states, namely California, Florida, and Texas were originally settled by Spain and later, in regards to California, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado – claimed by Mexico.
Today, there are about 48 million Hispanics in the United States according to the U. S. Census Bureau 2010 statistics, which is almost 16% of the total population. The current projections predict about 103 million Hispanics by 2050, which will be approximately 25% of the total U.S. population. These numbers are impressive. As a result, the U.S. today is a “de facto” bilingual nation. You just have to call a business or observe commercial road signs to see what I mean.
As in any culture, there is a constant evolution of ideas, language, and practical ways people express themselves. Hispanics are no different in that regard. It’s amazing to see how whole communities reflect their language and culture within the larger context of one nation. They find themselves assimilated to a certain degree, but still keep the important value of their particular culture which directly reflects in their family life.
So that brings us back to celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. One way you can celebrate is to watch the PBS series “Latino Americans.”
“Latino Americans” A Good Place to Start
If you want to understand Hispanic or Latino culture and history in the Americas, the PBS program “Latino Americans” is an excellent place to start.
“Latino Americans” tells a story, but more importantly, it’s a milestone in raising the awareness of the general populace. Since much of history is written by the “conquerors,” every once in while there’s a chance to write the “other history” to purposely rewrite, revise, or correct. “Latino Americans” attempts to do this. You can be the judge whether it succeeds.
Follow the Trend
National Hispanic Heritage Month demonstrates that Hispanic contributions of culture and achievement in the U.S. are more than a trend. It’s an opportunity to embrace a culture that may not be your own, but it offers unique rewards. If it is part of your own family, then it’s an opportunity to celebrate the uniqueness and contribution of your heritage.
It is said that if you want to know a trend, follow the money.
During the last two decades, tons of marketing dollars have been invested into Hispanic/Latino target markets. Product companies, media outlets, and yes, now even the politicians are have joined the crowd. The amount of money poured into political causes and elections is huge.
The U.S. military has been recruiting U.S. Hispanic citizens and non-U.S. citizens since the turn of the 19th century. But since the 1970’s, rising numbers of Hispanic non-U.S. citizens from around Latin America have been recruited in lieu of a promise of citizenship. Lately, immigration has been the hot topic, but I’ll address that challenge at a later date.
I encourage you to check out activities around National Hispanic Heritage Month 2014. Every year it seems that many small communities around the entire U.S.A have some sort of festival or activity commemorating this event. So check the internet and your local paper for events.
The number of these festivals and activities has accelerated since 2000.
There are a number of events happening here in Sarasota, Florida.
One of my favorites is the annual Hispanic Festival at St. Jude’s Catholic Church. It’s a one day festival and this year the date is Saturday, November 8, 10am to 5pm. The festival is located on St. Jude’s Catholic Church grounds at 3930 17th St., Sarasota, Florida.
All of the Hispanic countries are represented at the festival. There’s great food you can sample from several Latin countries, nice performances in costumbes from around the Hispanic world, and good music. And of course, you can practice your Spanish and Portuguese. I will be there with some students who are learning about Hispanic culture and improving their Spanish.
Of course, you can also dine at a few of my favorite Latin eating establishments in Sarasota like SofritoMamas (Puerto Rican), Maemi (Peruvian fusion), and Guerreros (Mexican). Search out your local restaurants. You probably have a favorite one already.