From Week To Month To Bone of Contention, The History of Hispanic Heritage Month

HHM BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of stmosaicproject.org

For the past several decades, both the Hispanic community and its political leaders have waited in anticipation of September 15, when Hispanic Heritage Month begins four weeks dedicated to making a case for why we should feel like we entirely belong in the United States of America.

“Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America,” says the official government website.

However, 52 years ago, the commemoration was different.

What we call Hispanic Heritage Month today began as Hispanic Heritage Week, first proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 with Presidential Proclamation 3869.

The celebration continued under the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush proclaimed National Hispanic Heritage Month on September 14. The proclamation coincided with the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on September 15, and Mexico and Chile on September 16 and 18, respectively.

From recognizing the contributions of Hispanic soldiers to the U.S. military to cultural celebrations across the country including festivals, exhibits, carnivals, and parades the entire country spends these four weeks trying to shed light on the deep connection between the Hispanic community and the U.S. nation’s foundations.

However, following the anti-immigrant policies put in place by the Trump Administration, the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month this 2020 has many political connotations.

With over 60 million citizens, Hispanics in the U.S. are the fastest growing and most impactful demographic group in the last decade, with a significant increase in young voters’ generation.

While about 60% of the Hispanic population is of Mexican origin, in recent years, the number of Venezuelans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans has grown exponentially, changing with them the heterogeneity of political priorities and behaviors of the bulk of Hispanics in the country.

Similarly, although President Trump and his pulpit insist on vilifying Hispanics as criminals, as of 2018, four out of five Latinos in the United States are American citizens, according to the Pew Research Center.

In fact, the share of U.S. Latinos who are immigrants is on the decline and varies by origin group, according to the Center.

Of these citizens, about 32 million will be eligible to vote in the November presidential election, an increase of 27.3 million since the 2016 election. 

And while the identity process of Hispanics in the country is becoming increasingly clear, political leaders, for their part, seem not to have fully understood it.

Donald Trump continues to appeal to both the conservative and Republican (yes, they exist) Hispanic voter base. In contrast, the Biden campaign continues in a race against time to win over the progressive Latino voters who woke up to the Democratic primaries especially to projects like that of Senator Bernie Sanders and who continue to doubt that the “safe play” of centrist Democrats is in the best interest of the community.