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  • Jennifer Mendoza

Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month

About the author: Jennifer Mendoza ACSW Today's post is written by Jennifer Mendoza ACSW. She is an Assistant Supervisor/Clinical Social Worker who currently works with a mental health agency that is contracted with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. She has worked in the field of mental health for 10 years and in helping professional roles for 16 years. Jennifer was inspired to become a social worker from her early life experiences. As a child, she observed her parents, who migrated from Guatemala, working long hours to provide for the family. They made sacrifices so that she and her sister could have a better life. She saw her grandmother helping others in need without expecting anything in return. As a first-generation Latina, Jennifer was raised in the South Bay of Los Angeles. She experienced discrimination personally and later, while caring for her father became aware of how people with disabilities are treated. “That was when I knew I wanted to be able to plant my seed for a more accepting world.”

Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated each year between September 15 to October 15 to recognize the achievements of Hispanic and Latinx Americans. It was first introduced as a commemorative week in June of 1968 by California Congressman George E. Brown, who represented East Los Angeles and a large portion of the San Gabriel Valley—both heavily populated by members of the Hispanic and Latinx communities. He wanted to recognize the contributions of these communities throughout American history. The push to recognize Hispanic and Latinx communities had gained momentum throughout the 1960s when the civil rights movement was at its peak and there was a growing awareness of the United States' multicultural identities.

On September 17, 1968, Congress passed Public Law 90-48, officially authorizing and requesting the president to issue annual proclamations declaring September 15 and 16 to mark the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Week and called upon the “people of the United States to observe such week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.” President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first Hispanic Heritage Week presidential proclamation the same day. Later it was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15.

The timing of Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of several Latin American nations. September 15 was chosen as the kickoff because it coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. These five Central American nations declared their independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. Mexico and Chile also celebrated independence from Spain on September 16 and 18, 1810 respectively. Belize declared independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981.

How has Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month changed throughout time?

In 1997 Hispanic Heritage Month was expanded to include Latinos in order to be inclusive of everyone’s cultural identity. The word Latinx was first used by author Arlene Gamio in 2004, however the term didn’t take off until over 10 years later in 2016 when the Latino community pushed to honor individual preference by using the term Latinx. In the last years the Latinx community has also been a push to include indigenous communities, Afro Latinx, and South Americans to highlight their representation and contributions to the U.S.

Hispanic and Latinx

Many people use Latinx and Hispanic interchangeably, however these two words mean different things. Latinx is used when referring to someone who comes from Latin America, or is a descendant from any Latin American country. A Hispanic person is someone who comes from or is a descendant of a Spanish-speaking country.

A person can be both Hispanic and Latinx, but not all Latinx are Hispanic. For example, Brazilians are Latinos, but their native language is not Spanish. Conversely, not all Hispanics are Latinx. Spaniards are considered Hispanic, but not Latinx, since they are part of the European Union and not Latin America.

Hispanic countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Latin American countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

How many Hispanics/Latinx are there in the U.S.?

The Pew Research Center says the U.S. Hispanic/Latinx population is the nation's second-fastest-growing ethnic group after Asians. The Hispanic population in the U.S. reached a record 62.1 million in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics account for 18.7% of the total U.S. population.

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