Teaching Hispanic Heritage Month
Each year, from September 15 to October 15, we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a moment to recognize the important histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors come from Spain, the Caribbean, North, Central and South America.
Hispanic Heritage Month initially began as weeklong “Hispanic Heritage Week” in 1968 during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. By signing Proclamation 3869, President Johnson declared
the people of Hispanic descent are the heirs of missionaries, captains, soldiers, and farmers who were motivated by a young spirit of adventure, and a desire to settle freely in a free land. This heritage is ours. … [I] do hereby proclaim the week beginning September 15, 1968, as National Hispanic Heritage Week, and I call upon the people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe that week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
It wouldn’t be until 1988, during the presidency of Ronald Regan, that the celebration was expanded to 31 days and called “National Hispanic Heritage Month.” We begin celebrating on September 15 in recognition of the anniversary of independence of many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.
For years, there have been debates about the term “Hispanic” and whether it truly represents the diversity of Americans with heritage from the Caribbean, North, Central and South America. Let’s take a look at the difference between the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx”, as well as why it matters.
In the 1980s, the U.S. government officially added the term “Hispanic” to the census after Mexican and Puerto Rican activists lobbied for a term that would unify all individuals who spoke the Spanish language. Before this, the U.S. Census identified Central and South Americans separately from Mexicans and Puerto Ricans who were classified as “white.” This term, however, excluded non-Spanish speaking countries and cultures such as Brazil, Haiti, Suriname, and indigenous communities across North, Central and South America.
To add more confusion, there’s another Spanish speaking country besides Spain outside of the Americas: Equatorial Guinea in Africa. By the technical definition, this would be another Hispanic country, but with very different history and cultural expressions than Latin American countries. Moreover, some criticized the term for highlighting Spain, which colonized much of Latin America.
The term “Latino” originates around the 1960s and was offered up as an alternative to “Hispanic”. It’s used to classify countries, cultures and people from within the larger geographic region of Latin America, whose language derive from the Romance Language Latin. “Latinx” emerged in the 2000s as the gender-neutral form of “Latino” to include those individuals who identify outside of the gender binary. However, like the term “Hispanic”, “Latinx” has been criticized for not including those outside of the geographic boundaries of Latin America and for attempting to group several distinct cultures into one.
So is it “Hispanic” or “Latinx”? When it comes to personal identity, choosing between these two terms (and others) is up to each individual person. When it comes to Hispanic Heritage Month, regardless of its name, it’s important for our students to learn about the vibrant histories, cultures and stories of this large and seldom misunderstood cultural group. Below are a few of our favorite resources to help you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with your students.
- “Hispanic Heritage Month Resources”, The Smithsonian Latino Center
- An African American and Latinx History of the United States, Paul Ortiz
- “Hispanic Heritage Month”, National Education Association
- “Selected Resources for Teachers, National Hispanic Heritage Month”, Library of Congress
- “Latino Americans – Lesson Plans”, PBS
- “National Hispanic Heritage Month: Ideas for Teachers”, Anti-Defamation League
- “Hispanic and Latin Heritage and History in the United States”, EDSITEment!, National Endowment for the Humanities
- “Borders and Identity: Identidad y Frontera”, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
- “Latin American Music Lesson Plans” Smithsonian Folkways
- “Recursos en espaÃ±ol”, Smithsonian Learning Lab
- “American Latino Heritage Theme Study”, National Parks Service
Blog post image citation: John Milas. Lorain International Hispanic of the year and Hispanic queen float photograph. Picture. Lorain, OH: 1986. Lorain County Historical Society. https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll78/id/103. (Accessed September 22, 2021)