This September 15th marks the 54th annual Latinx Heritage Month. A month which highlights the numerous contributions that people from Central and South America, the Caribbean, Spain, have made to their communities and to celebrate their long histories and diverse cultures. Though some may view this month as pandering due to it limiting the influence of Latinx people to just one month, or perhaps highlighting the struggles many in this community still go through, that does not mean it is any less important for people to educate themselves and acknowledge the broad influence. Though it shouldn’t stop at one month, there is a lot more time now then when it first began.
The formal beginning of this tradition began back in 1968 when California Congressman George E. Brown first introduced this concept, but instead of a month it was a week. Brown was an early and long time supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, with him even leading protests against the Japanese Internment camps in 1942. Brown sought to recognize and promote all the roles and contributions made by Latinx people in his community and throughout history. In addition, he wished to motivate these minority communities. In his own words, “Organized human society cannot succeed and excel without the full-fledged participation of every individual in that society. A society that does not allow that full-fledged participation suffers inevitable serious penalties in every aspect of what they do. Their economy suffers. Their military strength suffers. Their scientific and technical strength suffers. All these depend on the free and willing participation of motivated individuals. And when you inhibit that, you weaken your society.”
With Brown introducing the motion, it was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson to become Proclamation 3869. President Johnson, when approving the legislature, stated “It is with special pride that I call the attention of my fellow citizens to the great contribution to our national heritage made by our people of Hispanic descent…The people of Hispanic descent are the heirs of missionaries, captains, soldiers, and farmers that were motivated by a young spirit of adventure, and a desire to settle freely in a free land. This heritage is ours.” With this proclamation came the beginning of what was known as “National Hispanic Heritage Week.” This holiday continued on for 20 years, until it was later extended by Senators Orrin G. Hatch and Paul Simon. In their letters to Washington D.C proposing the idea, Hatch and Simon both argue that Latinx people are only growing and becoming more diverse, along with mentioning key contributions made by Latinx people. For example, they show that the oldest capital city under the U.S flag is San Juan, Puerto Rico, founded in 1521. In addition, 1776 is not just the year in which our country was founded, but is also the year San Francisco was founded. To elaborate the importance of this community, Hatch and Simon state “It is important that the nation be educated and made aware of the richness and the significance of the contributions of Hispanics in our society. Hispanics are not just an important part of our country’s origin; they are essential for America’s future.” Once their proposal passed under President Reagan, the week was expanded to a month.
When discussing Latinx Heritage Month, many are sometimes confused as to why it starts in the middle of September, instead of the beginning like Black History Month or Pacific Islander Month. The reason is due in large part to the significance of September 15th for many Latin countries. September 15th marks the anniversary of the signing of The Act of Independence of Central America, which officially declared the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Officially ending almost 300 years of Spanish rule. In addition to these countries, Mexico celebrates their Independence Day on the 16th, which is actually the anniversary of the start of their revolution. The day memorializes the famous El Grito de Dolores, a speech given by Roman Catholic Priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla which inspired the call to arms against Spain.
The last holiday included in this month is Columbus Day. In recent years, there has been a lot of debate on whether to properly celebrate the day of Columbus landing in the Americas, especially among the Latinx communities. For many, Columbus landing signifies the beginning of many years of bloodshed and pain for their ancestors. Instead, many Spanish speaking countries celebrate Indigenous Resistance Day on October 12th. Similar to Indigenous People’s Day in the United States, but with more of an emphasis on the people who fought against Spanish colonialism.
The true impact that Latinx Heritage Month has had on people may never be truly known, but putting time aside to provide education and emphasize the contributions of a people’s rich culture and heritage is something that should always be celebrated. One change that is notable is that Latinx people were finally allowed to show their national identity. Prior to 1970, the national Census only allowed for one box for counting Latinx people, under the umbrella term “Mexican.” All people of Latin origin were supposed to identify with a country many had probably never lived in. It wasn’t until after 1970 where they began listing other countries. Though it is hard to say this is a direct result of Latinx Heritage Month being celebrated for two years at that point, it at least opened the door and continues to do so.
When being a minority, even the largest minority in the U.S, it is easy to let their contributions fade. The importance of Latinx Heritage Month is that it brings them back to the surface. Contributions like Caesar Chavez leading his own civil rights movement, or the almost entirely Puerto Rican regiment called Los Borinqueneers that helped turn the tide in the Korean war and all of them being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. There are so many important contributions made by Latinx people in American culture, too many to whittle down to just one month, but the month helps people from outside the culture learn more about who Latinx people are and why they are proud of their heritage. Which ultimately, just adds more depth and richness to our already multifaceted culture.
As a demonstration of these values, Long Beach Living has gathered together 12 stories from local, prominent and influential people within the Latinx community. We will detail the lives of artisans, community leaders, and business owners. These videos will be rolled out throughout Latinx Heritage Month via our app (make sure to download it!); detailing who they are, where they are from, and their own personal stories. Stay tuned!