Hispanic heritage month: Facts you should know

Hispanic heritage month: Facts you should know

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated August 8, 2023

National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States is observed every year from September 15 to October 15. Since 1968, this month has been a national celebration of the rich culture, history and achievements of people from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Spain. 

The US has a long history of political and economic influence in Latin America. Did you know that large areas of what is today US land once belonged to Mexico? The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ceded more than 50% of Mexico’s territory to the US — land which now forms 10 current US states. 

If you think that bit of history is interesting, keep reading to learn more Hispanic Heritage Month facts and discover some activities you might enjoy this month.

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What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

In 1968, US President Lyndon B. Johnson designated the week of September 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Week. This declaration came on the cusp of major strides in the US labor movement and followed a moving speech by the president on Labor Day, in which he extolled progress and the human dignity of American workers.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a full month.

Significance of Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month doesn’t just mark an important time for celebration and reflection in the US. It also coincides with the following significant events throughout Latin America:

  • September 15 is the anniversary of independence from Spain for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
  • Mexico celebrates its independence day on September 16
  • Chile celebrates its independence day on September 18
  • Dia de la Raza, or Day of the Race, is celebrated in Mexico, Central and South American countries on October 12. This date is celebrated as Columbus Day in many parts of the US, though there is a growing movement to recognize the holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Why is Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated?

Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of the history and culture of US Latin American and Hispanic communities. From land to language to food to traditions, communities from multiple Latin American cultures have shaped major parts of US life. During Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate how those strong communities have influenced and contributed to American society. 

Hispanic vs. Latine terminology

“Hispanic” refers to someone who is from (or whose relatives or ancestors are from) a Spanish-speaking country and is inclusive of Spain. 

The term Latine refers to someone who is from or descends from a Latin American country, not including Spain. 

A person from Spain is Hispanic but not Latine as they do not trace their roots to Latin America. A person from Brazil, on the other hand, is Latine but may not speak Spanish.  

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Facts about Hispanic and Latine people in the US

  • The Hispanic population in the US was 62.5 million in 2021.
  • People of Mexican origin made up almost 60% of the US Hispanic population in 2021, or about 37 million people.
  • Americans of Puerto Rican origin make up the second largest group, with 5.8 million people on the US mainland and 3 million living on the island of Puerto Rico
  • Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in California and Texas.
  • Four in five Latinos living in the US are US citizens.

Hispanic Heritage Month activities

The theme for Hispanic Heritage Month in 2023 is “Latinos: Driving Prosperity, Power and Progress in America.” This theme recognizes the significant impact of Hispanic people on the economic, political and social growth of the US as a nation.

Many official Hispanic Heritage Month activities will occur around the country. Different cities will organize parades, concerts, art exhibits and more. Here is a video of national events in 2022

If you are interested in learning more about Hispanic and Latine people, you can do a lot on your own! You may even consider traveling to significant places that honor Latin American heritage during this month. If that is out of your reach, though, here are some other suggestions on what you could do: 

  • Take a Spanish class to learn the language of most of Latin America.
  • Listen to regional music from different Latin American countries.
  • Watch movies to learn about the different cultures represented during Hispanic Heritage Month. 
  • Take a cooking class. Many in the US are familiar with tacos and enchiladas, but the variety of cuisines across Latin America is mind-blowing! The cuisines of Mexico are recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Plan a trip! There is nothing like visiting a country to learn more about the people and the culture. You can choose from 20 of them!

How we shape the US

People of Hispanic and Latin American heritage (like me and my family) have shaped the modern United States. Now that you also know some facts about Hispanic Heritage Month, you can celebrate the culture and accomplishments of Latine people along with us. Learning Spanish is the most fundamental way to start, in my humble opinion. Fluency in Spanish has opened doors for me and enriched my life for over three decades. Even if you don’t have Spanish-speaking family or Latin traditions in your home like I do, I am confident that learning about Latin American cultures will bring both joy and success to your daily life, the way it does to mine.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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