September 15 marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, often seen as an opportunity to celebrate the lives, culture and contributions of the 62.1 million Hispanics in the U.S.
The month is celebrated until October 15 and recognizes Hispanic leaders and historic moments. Some take the opportunity to highlight discrimination against Hispanics while others celebrate their ancestors.
For as long as he can remember, Joel Camacho ended each September 15 eating pozole and reminiscing about life in Mexico with his family. The month marks a time for Camacho and his family to celebrate their culture.
However, for others, Hispanic Heritage Month erases their identity. Fernanda He was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but her parents immigrated from China. He said the label “Hispanic” doesn’t fully describe or accept her.
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“More often than not people think of white or light skin Hispanics during this month. They’re forgetting the Asian, Black and indigenous Latinos like me,” He told USA TODAY.
So how is Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated, and how can it be more inclusive?
Tracing back to its origins
Originally, Hispanic Heritage Month was just a week. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill designating the week of September 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Week,” according to the Office of the Historian and the Office of Art & Archives for the U.S. House of Representatives.
However, in 1987, Rep. Esteban Torres of California decided a week wasn’t enough to celebrate. So Torres submitted H.R. 3182, a bill to expand Hispanic Heritage Week into a Hispanic Heritage Month.
Torres was quoted as saying he wanted “the American people to learn of our heritage. We want the public to know that we share a legacy with the rest of the country, a legacy that includes artists, writers, Olympic champions, and leaders in business, government, cinema and science,” according to the House’s History, Art and Archives office.
Torres’ bill died, but a year later Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois submitted S. 2200, a similar bill, and then-President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
But why September 15th? It’s in remembrance of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua; each country celebrates its national independence on that date. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16, Chile on September 18, and Belize declared its independence on September 21.
‘More inclusion is needed’
Hispanic and Latinx populations are expanding in the U.S., with the 2020 US Census reporting 62.1 million people who identified as Hispanic or Latino, making up 18% of the total population.
The census also shared the amount of Latinos who identified as white fell from about 53% in 2010 to about 20% in 2020. Instead, those who identified as “other” rose from 37% to 42%, and the share identifying as two or more races jumped from 6% to 33%.
As fewer Hispanics identify as white, Margie Del Castillo argues Hispanic Heritage Month needs to amplify Black, indigenous and brown Hispanic and Latinx voices.
“It’s time to disrupt how Hispanic Heritage month usually goes. More inclusion is needed. We need to talk about those not usually seen, like Afro-Latinas,” Del Castillo, the national director of field and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, told USA TODAY.
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Cynthia Rios and her family often ignore Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. Growing up, Rios saw white Hispanics plastered on every campaign for the month; she never saw anyone who looked like her, both an Asian and Afro-Latina woman.
She said the month and most Hispanic celebrations often erase Black, Asian and brown voices and experiences.
“If this month continues to only focus on the Spanish side of Latinidad and this term ‘Hispanic,’ it will continue to alienate Latinos who don’t identify as white,” Rios told USA TODAY.
Instead, Del Castillo argued Hispanic and allies should practice rejecting anti-blackness and embrace Hispanics who don’t fit the “socially accepted” Hispanic box.
‘More than a Taco Tuesday’
Anthony Mora said although it’s hard to recognize 62 million people in four weeks, he’s grateful Hispanic Heritage Month does shed some light on the community.
The associate professor at the University of Michigan said the month encourages other Americans to learn more about the culture and issues among the Hispanic community. However, instead of companies and businesses creating events and sales around the month, Latinx people should spearhead the celebrations.
“I wish I saw more Latinx people being the ones behind the content around the month. I’d want to see more schools learning about true Hispanic history, and I’d want to see it be more than a Taco Tuesday event,” Mora told USA TODAY.
Mora said in a country where Hispanic voices are often silenced, the conversations that are highlighted during the holiday are “crucial.”
For Camacho, the month is a time for family reunions, meals and parties. He takes the time to educate his children about their Mexican ancestry and Latin American current events. His two daughters often dance the traditional Mariachi dance at a church festival every September in Arizona.
Although the month comes with its flaws, Camacho said he’s grateful to be recognized. Del Castillo agrees, saying she’d take some recognition over total ignorance. In past Hispanic Heritage Months, Castillo said she’s seen immigrant rights, discrimination and women rights given a platform.
She hopes with each year the holiday becomes more inclusive, more uplifting and tells more Hispanic and Latinx stories.
“I’m grateful for this holiday, I’m happy we’re given a month where people are paying attention to our stories, but we must continue to do more all others months of the year.”
Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda