September 14, 2007

National Hispanic Heritage Month

The Story Behind Hispanic Heritage Month

Latinos know that Hispanic Heritage Month means more than bylaws and speeches. They are keen to the fact that the month’s most important aspect is educating others on preserving Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula’s culture and values. Nevertheless, it is important to note the history behind the above-mentioned holiday.

In 1968, under Public Law 90-498, US Congress approved the glorification of the Hispanic flavor — and the influence of it in politics, economy and society — as a weeklong celebration. Some time thereafter, 20 years to be exact, President Ronald Reagan extended the holiday for a period of 30 days (replacing the word “week” with “month” in the original proclamation) with the hopes that the selected dates would coincide with the Independence Day celebrations of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Chile.

Today, Hispanic Heritage Month is a national observance authorized by Public Law 100-402, which states that the President is hereby authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation designating the 31-day period beginning September 15 and ending on October 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Month.” Due to this, and to the enthusiasm produced at Hispanic neighborhoods around the country, during the month tribute is paid (through ceremonies, workshops, festivals and public displays) to the achievements, contributions and traditions that millions and millions of US Hispanics have to offer.

President Reagan’s decision in 1988 could not have been more true: the US Hispanic population has grown more than 50% in the last 10 years, and it is expected to continue changing the face of the country throughout the 21st century. Inclusively, if we take a look at the figures hidden behind Hispanic Heritage Month, we’ll see that:

* Hispanics constitute more than 14 or 15% of the total US population. In other words, more than 36 million inhabitants. Researches estimate that this group will number 53 million inhabitants in 2020 and 80 million in 2040.

* The majority of Hispanics in the US come from Mexico (almost 70% of the total Hispanic population to be exact) and Puerto Rico (almost 10%). According to statistics, at this group’s buying power overpasses $561 billion a year, making it a fundamental element in the US economy. Hispanic household incomes have risen from $14,000 a year in 1980 to $29,000 a year in 1996. It currently stands at $34,000 a year, which constitutes an increase of 132%.

* Seventy-two percent of US Hispanics are currently in the work force, either part-time or full-time.

So how can we doubt this celebration? One could say that it is almost impossible to ignore it, much less if you take into consideration that Hispanics are expected to make up much of the US population by the year 2050. Whoever has any doubts can just look around them to see the effect of the wave of Hispanics: ads springing up in Spanish, Spanish-language dailies and magazines in every corner, Hispanic athletes involved in the day’s most important plays, a salsa or a reggaeton song on a car’s stereo, etc. Due to all of this, and other reasons that I was just not able to mention, having a special period every year designated as Hispanic Heritage Month is simply fundamental.

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