September 21, 2007

Hispanic Heritage Takes Center Stage

Turn on the television, listen to the radio or rent a movie and you’ll find that the world has experienced an Hispanic culture explosion. We can’t get enough of infectious dance beats, sultry screen stars and the talents of many notable individuals beyond the world of entertainment. In addition, now, more than ever, Hispanic food choices are more readily available and enjoyed by many Hispanics and non-Hispanics. International food chains are even including tacos, fajitas and more on their mainstream menus.

Despite cultural advances, many people are still unfamiliar with Hispanic heritage and history. That is why it is important to become educated about this influential societal group.


The terms Hispanic and Latino have been used interchangeably for years. However, according to the Latino-Hispanic Historical Society, “Hispanic” derives from the Iberian Peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal, while “Latino” derives from the indigenous peoples of the Americas (Mexico, Central America, and South America). Mexico and most nations in Central and South Americas speak Spanish because they were once colonies of Spain. The U.S. Census Bureau adopted the term “Hispanic” in the early 1970s to categorize Spanish-speaking individuals, regardless of race.


National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, actually began as a week-long celebration more than 20 years ago. It was created by the U.S. Congress to commemorate events in Hispanic history during September and October. They include Independence Day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on September 15; Independence Day for Mexico on September 16; and El Dia de la Raza on October 12. Since 1989, when it became a month-long celebration, the holiday has expanded to recognize any Hispanic culture.


There are many ways to recognize Hispanic culture:

* Research current famous Hispanics. This goes beyond mainstream celebrities like Jennifer Lopez or Alex Rodriguez. People like Pat Mora, a children’s book author, David Diaz, an artist and illustrator, or Dr. Ellen Ochoa, a NASA astronaut who has visited space three times, are all good choices.

* Learn how Hispanics have influenced history. Severo Ochoa won the Nobel Prize in 1959 for medicine. He received the prize for his discovery of the process that allowed humans to create RNA — a vital life substance that makes cells work and grow — in a test tube. Jaime Escalante is a teacher who changed the lives of Latino students in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles. His life story was portrayed in the movie “Stand and Deliver.” Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert made advances in food safety for people in the Southwest by teaching New Mexico residents how to safely preserve food through canning and drying.

* Visit historical places with Hispanic influence. Places to include: Ranchos of Northern New Mexico, Forts of Old San Juan, Gran Quivira village in New Mexico, Creole neighborhoods of New Orleans or the missions in San Antonio, Texas.

* Use your computer as a tool. Go online and visit a site like for up-to-date information on Hispanic culture.

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