Hispanic Heritage Month is already in progress as you read this — the celebratory 30 days span from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Unlike other national days or weeks that may seem a little vague (like Soup Swap Day on the third Saturday in January, for example) Hispanic Heritage Month has a theme, and it’s super important to know about. The theme this year is “Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation,” according to the month's official website. The purpose is to invite and encourage people to reflect on the service and vital contributions Hispanic Americans have made (and continue to make) on the country every single day.
The theme was announced in April 2019; 12 options were considered and ultimately the theme submitted by Veronica Vasquez was selected through a voting process. Vasquez is the President of National Image Inc., a non-profit with a mission to “promote Hispanic employment in the federal government through training, leadership development, education and the advancement of Civil Rights for all," per their website.
The theme was voted on by a panel that included National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Manager (NCHEPM) members, "associates, and partners from federal agencies and affinity groups, including the general public,” according to the official website.
The term “Hispanic” is actually quite encompassing; it includes people whose ethnic roots trace back to any Spanish-speaking country, per Pew Research. More specifically, The U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines Hispanic or Latino as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”
57.5 million people (18 percent of the American population) are of “Hispanic or Latino origin,” per the Heritage month website. That's a lot of people; for context, 57.5 million is roughly double the number of people who live in the 10 most-populated American cities, according to population stats on Moving.com.
Some of the more famous Latinx people are celebrated constantly (and for good reason; have you seen Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers?), but Hispanic Heritage Month presents an opportunity to recognize and honor the contributions of those people who may not be as well-known but, nevertheless, have made invaluable contributions to our society. There is an awesome list of extraordinary people on the Hispanic Heritage Month website, but did you know, for example that Albert Baez was the co-inventor of the X-ray microscope or that Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic to leave Earth’s atmosphere?
On the heels of what’s been such a trying and emotional year for Americans, specifically Hispanic Americans whose families have been inhumanely ripped apart, my plan is to embrace this Heritage month fully, to commit myself to learning more about the culture and the contributions of our Hispanic brothers and sisters.
Beyond the people who have achieved fame and notoriety, there are others: doctors, authors, activists, first responders, veterans, teachers, mothers, fathers who deserve to be celebrated, too. Maybe you do this by telling your family about a Hispanic person who has helped you in the past, or you get to know a Hispanic neighbor. Maybe you learn about Latinx activists and the work they’re doing to make for a brighter future, or you read a book or watch a show. (PBS is airing Hispanic Heritage shows and movies all month!)
It’s my hope that we remember the history of Hispanic people serving and contributing to our nation long after Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close on Oct. 15. And my next hope is that Hispanic movies are always readily available, because they're really damn good.