For more than 30 years, Americans have celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month September 15 through October 15 each year – though the country officially recognized the importance of the numerous contributions the Hispanic community made to America’s cultural fabric until the late 1960s. Here are some facts about how this annual celebration came about and how you can attend.
1. A celebration of Hispanic heritage was first officially recognized in 1968.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s raised awareness of underrepresented groups in America, and in June 1968 the United States government began considering how best to officially recognize the contributions of the Hispanic community to American history and culture.
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2. Hispanic Heritage Month was introduced by California Congressman George E. Brown.
George E. Brown, a California Congressman, was the one who originally launched the idea of paying tribute to Hispanic heritage in June 1968. Brown represented East Los Angeles and part of the San Gabriel Valley, areas of the state with large Hispanic populations. Brown saw an opportunity to celebrate culture and worked to get recognition for its contributions to the United States.
3. It was originally established as Hispanic Heritage Week.
While Johnson’s proclamation was a victory for the Hispanic community in terms of creating an annual celebration, it was initially only a single week, not an entire month, that was carved out for these events. Almost 20 years later, in 1987, Esteban Torres, who served as the California State’s 34th Congressional District Representative from 1983 to 1999, introduced HR 3182, a bill to extend the celebrations from one week to one month. Torres stated that he and his supporters “want the public to know that we share a legacy with the rest of the country, a legacy that includes artists, writers, Olympic champions and leaders in business, government, cinema and academia.”
Although Torres failed to get his own bill passed, Illinois Senator Paul Simon shared his primary purpose and views. He submitted his own bill to amend the original Public Law 90-468 to accommodate a longer celebration. Simon had better luck with his bill, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan on August 17, 1988.
4. The month of Hispanic Heritage begins September 15th – a date that has an important meaning.
Revolts erupted across Central America in the early 19th century as more and more citizens were open to Spain’s centuries-old sovereignty over the region. Fortunately, this did not result in an all-out war: instead, distinguished leaders and other community representatives from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gathered in Guatemala City in 1821 to work out a plan. On September 15, they officially declared freedom from Spain in a document called the Independence Act. These five countries are now celebrating September 15th as Independence Day.
5. Hispanic Heritage Month takes place over two different months.
Hispanic Heritage Month is unique in that it technically occurs in two different calendar months. It starts on September 15th each year and continues through October 15th. Aside from the five countries that celebrate Independence Day on September 15th, Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th and the fall of Chile is September 18th. With a duration of 30 days, the month includes these holidays as well as the Mexican celebration of Dia de la Raza on October 12th.
6. Many of the country’s top cultural institutions, including the National Park Service, celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, you’re in luck. A wide range of cultural institutions organize a variety of activities and events on the occasion. You can attend any of the webinars held by the National Archives, to the Smithsonian’s family-friendly archeology courses held in Spanish. In addition to sharing ideas on how to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month outdoors, the National Park Service has resources for educators and a rich archive of stories about people and the places they influence.
7. The Law Library of Congress has an entire website devoted to Hispanic Heritage Month.
If you’re interested in the political history of how Hispanic Heritage Month came about and how it has changed since it was founded in 1968, the Law Library of Congress has a website that has copies of the various laws, proclamations, and other topics Legal documents related to this annual celebration are retained.