Hispanic Heritage Month

Sofía M. De Jesús
Well, it’s 2020 and Hispanic Heritage Month snuck up on me again. The month spans from September 15 through October 15 and every year, I spend some time reading, learning, and studying about my own heritage more closely, even though that’s always something I like to do regularly.
But what is Hispanic Heritage Month? When did it start and why? Why is it important to me and others like me?
Let me try to address that one question at a time.

What is Hispanic Heritage Month?
From the National Hispanic Heritage Month website, you can get a glimpse of what the month is:
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.
My ancestors are from Puerto Rico, which is in the Caribbean. But more importantly, most of my family is from Spain. My parents would say my entire family is from Spain, but a quick DNA analysis will tell you that I’m like every other Puerto Rican: Spanish sprinkled with quite a bit of African and Taíno blood. The Taíno were the native peoples of Puerto Rico, and I am just recently learning more about them. And that’s really what this month is about. It helps us learn more about ourselves, our cultures, and share with others what makes us who we are.
When did it start and why?
The National Hispanic Heritage Month was first observed in 1968, but it only spanned one week. It wasn’t until 1988 that President Ronald Reagan established the month-long observation. That may seem like such a long time ago for some, but I was already 9 years old in 1988. Even though I grew up in Puerto Rico, we didn’t really celebrate it until much later. We did have a week that we celebrated “La Puertorriqueñidad” (rough, rough translation would be Puertoricanness… which sounds very weird!) This is a celebration of our culture and ends on November 19.
While the history of when Puerto Rico was colonized is very hotly debated, most books state that the Spanish made landfall in Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493. This is mostly currently accepted as fiction. Yes, there were boats and Spaniards, but there were other inhabitants and others that came before them. It is really fascinating to learn about all the versions of our history!
And that takes us back to why National Hispanic Heritage Month is so very important. As the use of social media grows wider and scholars share more of their knowledge openly rather than being limited to books in school, we get to explore more in depth what our cultures and heritage truly are.
The reason the month starts on September 15 is due to the anniversary of independence for some Latin American countries. Those countries are Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates their independence on September 16 and Chile celebrates on September 18 (https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/about/). In the current political climate, there is also a lot of debate about removing celebrations for Columbus Day, which is October 12 and also falls within the National Hispanic Heritage Month. Instead of celebrating Columbus on that day, we have been celebrating “El día de la raza,” a day to celebrate our race.
Why is it important to me and others like me?
Well, as I mentioned, knowing about our ancestors is really important in understanding ourselves and others. For me, it’s part of my identity work. Who am I? Where do I come from? Those questions are key for me and my growth as a human being and a member of many different communities. And that question doesn’t have a simple answer. While I’m from all over, which my DNA map shows quite well, I’m truly the definition of Hispanic: many cultures, many influences, one people. This month, I celebrate all that that means for me and spend time with others learning by listening to as many stories as I can.
Sofía M. De Jesús
Computational Thinking & Design
8th Grade Advisor
Hawken School
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