SACRAMENTO, Calif — Each year, the United States observes National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept.15 to Oct. 15. It’s all about celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
This year's theme for Hispanic Heritage Month is "Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope." National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM) members, associates, and partners from various federal agencies and affinity groups -- including the general public -- selected the theme through a voting process, which started in February 2021 with 22 theme submissions.
The NCHEPM supports the federal government’s observance activities each year by leading the process to select the annual theme federal agencies will use. This year, Victor Anthony Zertuche, an attorney-advisor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, submitted the winning theme.
“The past year has been one unlike any in recent memory,” said Zertuche. “For so many of us, our lives have changed. We've celebrated life's milestones at home or spent holidays alone. But, despite how our world has changed, we've kept our eyes on the horizon, we've held onto our hope. This theme celebrates our Hispanic heritage and our resilience. It provides us the opportunity to reflect on those who came before us and held onto hope to create a better tomorrow. It inspires us to recognize that we are stronger together and reminds us that, although we are apart, with hope we are not alone.”
According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, more than 60 million Hispanics live in the United States. That includes more than 15 million in California. Data from the Pew Research Center shows people of Mexican origin accounted for nearly 62% - about 37.2 million - of the nation's overall Hispanic population as of 2019. Those of Puerto Rican origin are the next largest group, at 5.8 million. Six other Hispanic-origin groups in the U.S. have roughly 1 million or more people each: Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians and Hondurans.
“Latinos are the largest minority group in the U.S. and California," said Dr. Elvia Ramirez, Professor of Ethnic Studies and Director of the Chicanx/Latinx Studies Program at Sacramento State.
"National Hispanic Heritage Month is about recognizing our history. Latinos have a long history in the U.S., but I don't think enough of the history is included in our educational system. As students, we don't learn it. We grow up thinking Latinos are newcomers, or that we don't have a long history. Hispanic Heritage Month is about inclusion, feeling seen and being validated, and we don't get that a lot. It’s one small step towards greater inclusion, but there is much more we can do as a society.”
The observation of Hispanic heritage started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the observation to cover a month-long period starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988, upon the approval of Public Law 100-402.
The day of Sept. 15 is significant. It's the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza, falls on October 12.
“I am very proud of my heritage,” said Carolina Rojas-Gore, Vice President and Board Member of the Mexican Cultural Center of Northern California. “We usually celebrate El Quince de Septiembre. That's the Mexican Independence Day. It's a huge event that we do at the State Capitol. We have over 8,000 people attend the event. But, obviously, last year and this year, we could not hold such a large event.”
The Mexican Cultural Center of Northern California is a nonprofit organization on a mission to enrich the Sacramento and Northern California communities through education, entertainment and outreach activities that preserve Mexican heritage by fostering the cultural, artistic and historical legacy of Mexico.
Each year, the center celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month with a list of community activities, including a beauty pageant and 'El Grito de Dolores' or 'Cry of Independence' on the west steps of the State Capitol. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the center is still encouraging people to celebrate safely by supporting Hispanic businesses, arts, literatures, foods, languages and more.
“Also, COVID has not allowed us to do the celebrations that usually take place at home,” Rojas-Gore said. “We have a nice dinner. We invite friends and neighbors. We celebrate with music. It's a beautiful reunion. We talk about our heritage and share stories to really reflect on the beauty of Mexico. For Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to make sure people understand where we come from. I think people can learn about the culture a little bit more. But, it's not just about Mexican Independence.”
The Latino Center of Art and Culture is also encouraging the public to celebrate Hispanic heritage. The center's mission is to foster artistic, economic and cultural development of the Sacramento region's Latinx community by presenting, exhibiting, and providing excellent artistic programs and services to Latinx artists, organizations and families. In celebration of Hispanic heritage, the center is holding a small series of concerts on a monthly basis, along with other events in the Greater Sacramento region.
"It's not just one month; we celebrate all year long,” said Aida Perez, Board Member at the Latino Center of Art and Culture. "We also have a 'Mercado,' where we bring all artisans and artists to sell their work. We want to be able to give Latinos the highlight. Hispanic Heritage Month is an educational piece. I don't think it's something that's taught across all schools. I never once heard of it. So, one of the best ways to celebrate is through education and knowing the strengths we bring as a community and individuals."
To learn more about the creation and evolution of National Hispanic Heritage Month or ways to recognize Hispanic heritage, people, and culture, visit The Library of Congress website.