National Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed in the United States in September and October. It began with a week-long observation in 1968, but in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to go from September 15 to October 15.
It is a month during which we celebrate the culture, history, and diverse contributions to our society of individuals whose ancestors came from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Spain.
September 15th was selected as the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month because it is the anniversary of independence for the Central American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Chile and Mexico also celebrate their independence days on September 18 and September 16, respectively.
With more than 60 million Hispanics in the United States (18.5% of the total population), the U.S. is surpassed only by Mexico for the largest Hispanic population. It is not surprising that there are so many incredible contributions to our society from the Latinx residents.
We recognize the names of Hispanic individuals like Rita Moreno, Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, Serena Gomez, Linda Ronstadt, or Lin-Manuel Miranda; these are people whose names and contributions are celebrated and well-known. But there are so many more!
Brilliant leaders like Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court. Artists like Juan Felipe Herrera, who was the first Latinx Poet Laureate for the United States. Organizers like Cesar Chavez, who challenged and led the fight for labor and civil rights for farm workers and others. Explorers like Dr. Ellen Ochoa, who was the first female Hispanic astronaut. Or Hilda L. Solis, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration.
And think about the influence of Jaime Escalante—the teacher who inspired the movie “Stand and Deliver,” and who brought attention to the learning challenges for students in schools that were neglected and underfunded.
You may not know the story of Dr. Carlos Juan Finlay, who helped stop yellow fever through his work with infectious diseases and his ideas about mosquito control in the early part of the 20th century. Or Dr. Severo Ochoa, whose work with enzymes helped to break the human genetic code and won him a Nobel Prize. Or Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, whose focus on the needs of Hispanic nurses and the communities they serve gave rise to far greater attention on the health disparities faced by Hispanic communities.
The health disparities impacting the Hispanic/Latino community are significant, and they are a major focus in our work at Adventist HealthCare, particularly in the Center for Health Equity & Wellness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hispanics in the U.S. are more likely to develop chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. And evidence is growing that Hispanics are among those groups who are being disproportionally affected by COVID-19.
So as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let us also be mindful of the challenges faced by the Latinx population. We are grateful for and inspired by the contributions our fellow citizens make to our society. But we are also aware of inequities that we can help address and eliminate. The very best way to celebrate and show appreciation is to do what we can to make those disparities disappear.