Instructor + DEIB Committee member, Erin Freeman, explores the history behind Latinx Heritage Month, why we celebrate + why we use Latinx instead of Hispanic.
HISTORY BEHIND LATINX HERITAGE MONTH (LHM)
Latinx Heritage Month began as “National Hispanic Heritage Week” – a weeklong celebration of the culture and history of people of Latin descent in the US in 1968. President Lyndon Johnson launched the annual tradition saying “The people of Hispanic descent are the heirs of missionaries, captains, soldiers, and farmers who were motivated by a young spirit of adventure, and a desire to settle freely in a free land. This heritage is ours.” In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended the week to a full 31 days – September 15 to October 15.
Latinx Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the history of the countless contributions of Latinx communities! At the same time, we can use this month to educate ourselves and others about this rich history to dispel ignorance, prejudice, and fear. Latinx people are not just a “minority culture.” Instead, we have had a significant influence on history, culture, art, music, food, literature, politics, and traditions in the US. We are both American and proud of our roots at the same time!
Why does LHM start in the middle of September? It starts on September 15 instead of the beginning of the month because that is the Independence Day of a number of Latinx countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. It symbolizes the strength and agency of Latin American countries and uplifts us as a group with a legacy of deeply rooted, rich traditions. The month also encompasses “Día de la Raza” (Day of the Race) on October 12 – a holiday celebrated in place of “Columbus Day” to honor the indigenous races and cultures and their resistance against European colonizers.
Latinx includes people of all gender identities by using the “x” at the end instead of a gendered “Latino” or “Latina.” Why not “Hispanic?” Hispanic refers generally to people from Spain and from countries formerly colonized by Spain, and the term was coined by the US government for census data collection. “Hispanic” defines our identities by our colonizers and excludes non-Spanish speaking people from Latin America. It erases native culture and represents a conscious government effort to categorize a diverse group of people into an amorphous “minority.”
How will you challenge yourself to learn more and to support the Latinx community during this month? This month is for people of Latin descent AND their friends and family. Whenever we have a celebration, EVERYONE is welcome. And the party never stops. Now that you know its origins, what will this month mean for YOU?