The Best Reasons Why We Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 ends next Friday, and as the official observance comes to a close, CARD wants to keep the celebration going.  

Between September 15th and October 15th we annually commemorate the contributions and honor the cultures of Americans descended from Spanish-speaking countries. 

However, keep in mind that although these countries share the Spanish language (and are all included in this celebration), they are geographically and culturally diverse

“Hispanic” doesn’t refer to a specific race, ethnicity or nationality, but is actually an umbrella term first established as a description for Americans in the 1980 census. This month celebrates Americans with ancestors from Mexico, Spain, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. 

Acknowledging the diversity of Hispanic people in America allows us to look at the full scope of success, pride and ingenuity of Hispanic Americans, past and present. Read on to learn about Hispanic excellence and look at a few really good reasons why we celebrate… 

🌐 Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans identify as Hispanic? The majority of the US’s population growth between 2010 and 2020 can be attributed to blossoming Hispanic communities all over the country. 

💪🏽 Hispanic businesses owners are a driving force in the small-business economy. According to a Stanford Graduate Business study, although Hispanic workers make up about 15% of the workforce, they account for a quarter of US entrepreneurs! 

💸 If the US Latino population was a country, it would have the 8th largest economy in the world. Not to mention the largest Hispanic market in the world (bigger than both Mexico and Brazil’s). A recent economic study estimates the US Hispanic economy to be worth about $2.6 trillion in GDP as of 2018. 

“Hispanic” vs. “Latinx” - What Do They Mean?

First let’s clear up some words you may have seen in the headlines recently… 

“Hispanic” is a term that was first coined after a lengthy debate on how to identify Latino/Latina/Chicano/Chicana people in the US for the census. Many Latino people were being misidentified as “Mexican” in government records, and the term “hispanic” was created to provide a more general definition. 

“Latinx” a.k.a. “Latino/Latina” is a relatively new term and is a gender-neutral way to refer to people descended from Latin American countries. It has its roots in Latino activist and academic pushback against government-created and Spain-centric labels. 

Technically, “Latinx” and “Hispanic” are interchangeable and both gender-neutral, but neither term is without critics. “Hispanic” has been contested because of its explicit ties to Spain and it’s US government origins. “Latinx” has been criticized as an out-of-touch phrase used only by academics and not fully embraced by the Hispanic community. 

Based on 2020 polling, communities themselves favor the term “Hispanic” over other labels. But with great Latinidad diversity comes a wide range of individual experiences. See this University of California blog post for a simple breakdown of the differences between various terms!  

How the Celebration Came to Be

In 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson decided there should be an annual, week-long celebration of “Hispanic Heritage” starting September 15th. Decades later in 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the holiday to a full 31 days. 

Unlike other national holidays like African American History Month and Asian Pacific Heritage Month which start on the 1st and end on the last day of the month, the start date was kept as September 15th. 

Although it may seem odd to straddle two months, this start date was preserved with good reason! Between the 15th and the 21st of September, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, and Belize all celebrate their independence from Spain or the U.K. The start of the American celebration was kept in mid-September to coincide with these independence holidays.

Hispanic Hero Spotlight: Labor Organizer Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta was born in 1930 a second generation Mexican-American in Dawson, New Mexico. Her father, a farm-worker and activist, was elected to the New Mexico legislature in 1938. Huerta’s mother was well known for her charity work in the Stockton, California community where Dolores spent most of her childhood after her parents divorced. 

She faced racial discrimination in school where she was accused of cheating because her papers were “too well written”. In 1945 after WWII, Huerta’s brother was beaten by white men for wearing a Zoot-Suit (read this article to learn more about the LA Zoot-Suit riots of the 1940’s).  

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Stepping Onto the Stage

Using the political awareness passed down from her parents’ activism as well as her personal experiences growing up Latina in segregated America, Huerta went on to become one of the most influential labor organizers in US history.

She started by founding Stockton’s Community Service Organization (CSO) chapter in 1955. There she pushed for voter registration and economic empowerment for Hispanic people. Huerta then turned her focus to agricultural labor and co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960. 

A couple years later, Huerta met Cesar Chavez and together they started the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. It became the first organization to successfully bargain with agricultural corporations for worker’s rights. Huerta’s tireless work as a lobbyist and grassroots organizer helped turn the project into the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) three years later. 

Stepping onto the stage in the 50’s, Dolores Huerta helped lead the strike of Delano grape farm workers. She advocated for bans on cancerous pesticides like DDT and demanded fair wages. Through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s she fought for unemployment benefits, safe working conditions, and female empowerment for Hispanic communities.

She is credited as being essential in the passing of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This legislation provided unprecedented rights for agricultural workers, allowing them to unionize and negotiate working conditions with employers. 

National Awards and Inspiring Legacy

In 1998 Huerta was the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. In 2011 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. 

As a proud Hispanic American, Huerta is emotionally and culturally connected to the communities she fights for. She devoted her life to politically and economically lifting Hispanic workers and communities. Huerta is just one superstar among many Hispanic Americans who fought to form the foundations of our labor systems and economic structures over the 20th century. 

Hispanic Hero Spotlight: Latinx Excellence in Fintech

After graduating with MBAs from Harvard Business school in 2015, twins Sean and Kenny Salas began to think back on their childhoods. They thought back fondly on the chain of Mexican restaurants their mother ran in Los Angeles when they were growing up.

When Sean and Kenny were 12, the restaurants were forced to close because their family didn’t have access to loans, or financial resources in general.

The closure sent them back to their mother’s hometown in Mexico, and they left behind Los Angeles where they had lived their whole lives.

Latino-Owned Businesses Lack Access to Financial Resources

Although Latino-owned businesses grow and profit along the same trends as white-owned businesses, they have a long history of credit and loan discrimination. Hispanic communities and businesses have been documented victims of predatory lending and mortgage discrimination. Long story short, stories like Salas and their mothers’ are not uncommon. 

In honor of their mother, the Salas brothers turned to the power of fintech and created a company called Camino Financial. Camino Financial provides Latino-owned businesses with an online service that pre-certifies them for loans and provides other financial services. 

Finding Success in 2021 and Beyond

The company examines multiple and non-traditional sources to establish creditworthiness, provides ongoing credit monitoring, and underwrites loans (bonus peace of mind for the recipients).

In July of this year, Camino Financial passed the benchmark of securing $100 million in loans for over 5,500 Latinx-owned businesses. You can learn more about this successful Latinx-owned and Latinx-serving company on their website!

Recap...

There’s a choice in using the word “heritage” as well as “history” to celebrate Hispanic excellence.

Recognition months are not all about the past – they’re just as much about American cultures and accomplishments today. You can use this Google Arts & Culture guide to get a current, digital street-view tour of some of the country’s most famous Hispanic neighborhoods. 

This month we celebrate the contributions of Latinx Americans who built the country and its economy all while facing the adversity of systemic racism. But now, we also have a chance to look at how these legacies of Hispanic perseverance, ingenuity and cultural diversity reflect on the world around us today. 

🪖 Find out how the US Military is honoring the Hispanic soldiers of the past and present. 

🎊 Check out the official website to find out about all the programs and affiliate organizations you can donate to in honor of your own Hispanic heroes. 

♥️ CARD wishes everyone a happy Hispanic Heritage Month. We extend a big thank you to the activists of yesterday and look forward to the success of tomorrow’s heroes.

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