Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, is being celebrated with the theme “Getting Involved: Our Families, Our Community, Our Nation.”In September 1968, Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week. The observance was expanded in 1988 to a monthlong celebration (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15).
America celebrates the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Sept. 15 was chosen as the starting point for the celebration because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.
Diversity in American society provides many opportunities for growth accompanied by many challenges. Much diversity exists within the Hispanic community as various subgroups are classified under the Hispanic umbrella.
The word Hispanic is actually a cultural or ethnic term. There is no single Hispanic nationality or race. Department of Defense Directive 1350.2 defines Hispanic as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central or South America, or of other Spanish cultures, regardless of race,” Hispanics is a term generally used by the direct descendants of Spanish conquistadors and other Spanish settlers of the U.S. Southwest and Florida (who did not emigrate from Latin America).
The term Hispanic is not the only title used to describe this segment of society. In the Western United States, many prefer the term Latino, while in the Southwest Hispanic is preferred. Some people, especially in the Mexican American community, use the term Chicano (Chicana for women) to describe themselves. Latinos (Latina for females) are people of Latin American origin living in the United States, while a Chicano (Chicana for women) is defined as an American of Mexican descent.
When describing the population in the United States composed of those with Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Spanish, and Latin American heritage, the more accepted terms are Hispanic or Latino.
Even within an ethnic group, different terms exist. For example, when speaking of individuals of Mexican ancestry, one might use Mexican-American to mean any person of Mexican origin living in the U.S., whether or not holding U.S. citizenship. That same person, if living in Texas, might prefer to be described as a Tejano or Texan and possibly could consider being called Mexican-American derogatory. If used in a political context, a man might describe himself as a Chicano, especially if he has been associated with the activist civil rights movement. Lastly, the term Latino has become popular across many of the ethnic groups to identify persons of Latin-American origin. Often it is used to identify political movements that go beyond Mexican-American, but which are indigenous to the American continents.
Differences among Hispanics make any general statements about Hispanics as a unified group subject to criticism or oversimplification. Even within an ethnic group, different terms exist. Although a broad umbrella term is used to identify various people with a common heritage, these variables that divide the Hispanic population must be considered:
– Race. Hispanics can be classified into any race category from white to black.
– Language. Some Hispanics speak only English, some speak only Spanish, and others are bilingual. Some speak French and English, such as the Cajun descendents from Spanish who occupied New Orleans in the 18th century.
– Time of arrival into what is now the United States. The relationship between some Hispanics depends on their arrival to the U.S., such as, first, second and third generations. In some cases, first generation Hispanics may resent the immigration of other Hispanics.
– National origin. Many do not relate to the term Hispanic. They relate to the area where they are from, such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, or Honduras. The term Hispanic refers to approximately 30 different nationalities, and it was chosen by the United States government, not the people of Spanish heritage themselves.
Oct. 12, 1492, is the mythical date of origin for Hispanics known as El Dia de la Raza (The Day of the Race). On that day Christopher Columbus landed in the Antilles and began the mixing of Europeans, indigenous Americans and Africans. While this idea of a Hispanic race is not accepted by all, there is a unique Hispanic identity that is linked by language and reinforced by media groupings and census statistics.
The history of Hispanics in the United States precedes the American Revolution. As early as 1526, there were Spanish settlers in what is now the continental United States. In fact, the oldest city in the United States is St. Augustine, Fla. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States. Forty-two years before the English colonized Jamestown, Va., and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Mass., the Spanish established at St. Augustine this nation’s first enduring settlement. The founder of St. Augustine, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and his Spanish fleet arrived off the coast of Florida on Aug. 28, 1565, the Feast Day of St. Augustine.
Eleven days later, he and his 600 soldiers and settlers came ashore at the site of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy with banners flying and trumpets sounding. He hastily fortified the fledgling village and named it St. Augustine.
Across the continent, a settlement on the site that would become Santa Fe was established by Juan Martinez de Montoya in 1607. The town formally became a capital in 1610, making it the oldest capital city and the second oldest surviving city founded by the European colonists in land that was later to become part of the United States.
The estimated Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2005, was 42.7 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. Hispanics constituted 14 percent of the nation’s total population. This estimate does not include the 3.9 million residents of Puerto Rico, which is a United States’ commonwealth.
About one of every two people added to the nation’s population between July 1, 2004, and July 1, 2005, were Hispanic. The projected Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2050, will be 102.6 million. According to this projection, Hispanics will constitute 24 percent of the nation’s total population on that date.
Sixty-four percent of Hispanic-origin people in households are of Mexican background. Another approximately 10 percent are of Puerto Rican background, with about 3 percent each of Cuban, Salvadoran and Dominican origins. The remainder are of some other Central American, South American or other Hispanic or Latino origins. California is home to 12.4 million Hispanics, and Texas is home to 7.8 million.
Thirteen states have at least half a million Hispanic residents. Forty-three percent of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic, highest of any state.
More than 31 million U.S. household residents age 5 and older speak Spanish at home. Spanish speakers constitute a ratio of more than 1-in-10 U.S. household residents. Among all those who speak Spanish at home, more than one-half say they speak English “very well.”
Hispanics have blended into American society, bringing their culture, traditions, religion, food and language with them. If population predictions hold, they will continue to contribute a greater role in our country’s future.