September 15th to October 15th is National Hispanic American Heritage Month—a time to celebrate the achievements of Hispanic Americans and pay tribute to their many accomplishments throughout history. During these 30 days, we celebrate the cultures and traditions of those who trace their roots back to Mexico, Spain, and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Latine/Hispanic Americans comprise the largest ethnic minority in the United States. The rich culture is filled with art, music, dance, food, and dress. The contributions of these communities include everything from politics to scientific discovery and invention. Learning about these communities and embracing the cultures that make the United States a better place is essential.
This blog gives a brief overview of the history and traditions of Hispanic Heritage Month, key Latine/Hispanic changemakers, and easy ways your family can celebrate this incredible culture.
The history: how did it start?
The first “Hispanic Heritage Week" began in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. It was extended to a month in 1988 by legislation sponsored by Rep. Esteban Edward Tores. September 15th was chosen as the starting point because it is the anniversary of the independence of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16th and September 18th, respectively. This month is a time to celebrate the unique cultures of these nations and how they’ve enriched the United States.
What started as Hispanic Heritage Week expanded into a month to celebrate a diverse and growing body of Hispanic Americans. This time is a perfect opportunity to learn more about the historical and present impact of the Latine/Hispanic communities and to honor Latine/Hispanic Americans who have made a difference.
This article covers a brief history of Latin Heritage Month, popular cultural celebrations and holidays, key Latine/Hispanic leaders, and easy ways your family can celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.
Overcoming inequality: the changemakers
Despite Latin America’s rich history and culture, the Latine/Hispanic community in the United States faces discrimination and bias. According to Pew Research Center, in 2021, 23% of Latine/Hispanic Spanish speakers said they had been criticized for speaking Spanish in public, and 20% of all Latine/Hispanic people said they were called offensive names in the last 12 months. This bigotry is a manifestation of ignorance and intolerance. Learning about and celebrating Latine/Hispanic culture can help reverse negative biases and continue the fight for equality.
Examining our history, we can see that the heritage of Latinos is one, above all, of resilience. Cities that were founded by Latinos centuries ago still stand today as some of America’s greatest and most vibrant. Americans of Hispanic descent have fought for our country, only to find out that we were not always accepted as equal. — Joaquin Castro, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman
From fighting for national independence to facing modern-day discrimination, Latin Americans and individuals of Latin American descent have come a long way in the fight for equal rights. Individual and collective efforts to end discrimination have created a more inclusive and tolerant nation. Here are some outstanding Latine/Hispanic people who have made a difference in their fields and their commitment to advocating Latine/Hispanic equality.
In 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Latine/Hispanic woman in the world to go into space. She was an astronaut aboard the Discovery Shuttle for nine days to study the effect of solar activity on the Earth’s climate and environment. She served four tours and 1,000 hours in space from 1993 to 2002. In 2013, Ochoa became the first Latine/Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Her achievements as an astronaut will go down in history, and she is a role model to the Latine/Hispanic community, especially those oppressed by poverty and inequality.
I plan to continue after retirement to encourage kids and adults—and especially women and minorities who are under-represented in STEM/STEAM fields—to reach for the stars! — Ellen Ochoa
Born in Puerto Rico in 1934, Roberto Clemente paved the way for Latine/Hispanic Americans in professional baseball. Clemente, wearing the iconic number 21, became the first Latin American and Caribbean player to win a World Series as a starting player. As one of the few Latin American players in the MLB, he was forced to stay in a rooming house instead of Pittsburgh’s team hotel because of the color of his skin. The Pirates' outfielder couldn’t eat at the same restaurants or go to the same movie theaters as his white teammates.
Clemente was a fervent activist for the Latine/Hispanic community. After an earthquake struck Nicaragua, Clemente used his fame to gather donations on Puerto Rican television and door-to-door in wealthy neighborhoods. He worked 14-hour days, including Christmas Eve and Christmas. He circled the island to stage local relief drives and conduct baseball clinics.
Clemente’s raised more than $150,000 in donations and collected 26 tons of food, clothes, and medicine. Clemente is a Latine/Hispanic hero who overcame prejudice and used his baseball fame to help other struggling Latine/Hispanic people.
I think all human beings are equal, but one has to unceasingly fight hard to maintain that equality. - Roberto Clemente.
Frida Kahlo lived 47 years and left behind 143 paintings, more than a third of them self-portraits. She contracted polio as a child and suffered from an accident that broke her spine, collarbone, pelvis, leg, and ribs. Amidst debilitating pain, Kahlo began painting in a vivid style that reflected her Mexican heritage. The painting “My Dress Hangs There” (1933) depicts the New York City skyline with colorful Tehuana-style clothing at the forefront of the piece. The dress and its prominence in the image show Kahlo’s advocacy of Mexican culture amidst her American surroundings.
Kahlo’s pride in her heritage and her unbelievable accomplishments despite her chronic pain should be used as a model of Latine/Hispanic excellence. Kahlo’s impact is that of a feminist Latine/Hispanic trailblazer who left behind breathtaking art and an undeniable pride in her Mexican roots.
Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. – Frida Kahlo
The culture through celebrations
An excellent way to learn about Latine/Hispanic culture is through food, dress, and celebrations. Of course, as with any cultural holiday, it's important for outsiders to be respectful and avoid cultural appropriation.
While each person may celebrate their roots differently, embracing the traditions and shared culture surrounding these forms of expression is essential. Here are some Latine/Hispanic traditions and holidays celebrated year-round, which often incorporate delicious meals and traditional dress.
Día De Los Muertos
This two-day Mexican holiday, known as “Day of the Dead” in English, reunites the living and the dead, usually in November. Families create offerings to honor their departed family members. Altars adorned in bright yellow marigold flowers and photos of the departed honor those who have passed.
Many people dress up with Calavera (skeleton) painted faces and have parades in the streets. Some common foods offered and eaten during this holiday are chicken tamales with tomatillo-cilantro salsa, chicken with mole negro sauce, candied pumpkin, and Oaxacan hot chocolate.
Festival de la Candelaria
This festival is celebrated on the shores of Lake Titicaca every February, where visitors from all over the world gather to appreciate indigenous traditions. The festival honors The Virgen de la Candelaria, the most revered saint in Peru, and Bolivia. Parades, traditional dancing, ornate costumes and intricate masks are at the forefront of the two-week festivities. An abundance of food and drinks are offered to all who attend.
The Concurso de Danzas Autóctonas is a native dance contest in which hundreds of enthusiastic participants gather in the city to perform as a symbol of devotion to the Virgin Mary. The dancers perform in colorful artisanal costumes, representing the influence of Peruvian and Bolivian styles.
A Quinceañera, or fiesta de quince años, celebrates a girl’s 15th birthday. The Quinceañera tradition may have its roots in indigenous Mexico and South America, where the Aztecs and Mayans held traditions for girls to mark the transition into adulthood. Today, it’s common to see people from Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru and other countries celebrating quinceañeras in their own countries and in the United States.
The tradition celebrates the young girl (la Quinceanera) and recognizes her transition to an adult capable of independence. The girl typically wears a luxurious gown in a color of her choice. The women in her court all wear the same dress, like bridesmaids, while the men wear dark suits.
Festivities include dancing, singing, and eating. Traditional foods incorporate enchiladas, rice and beans, corn-wrapped tamales, and various tacos. Or even a barbecue or a fajita buffet.
During Hispanic Heritage Month (and every month)! It's important to recognize these unique Latine/Hispanic traditions that have their roots decades and centuries into the past. These traditions represent more than just a fun way to gather and celebrate. They represent Latine/Hispanic pride and an unapologetic expression of religious tradition and cultural liberation.
Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with these Outschool Latine/Hispanic classes
Learning about Latine/Hispanic cultures, influential people, traditions, and language opens our eyes to new possibilities and ideas that we may not have realized before.
For example, Outschool offers dynamic Spanish classes for those interested in studying or practicing their Spanish. We also have other fun courses and subjects that are taught in Spanish. Try a Spanish Camp, Conversational Class, Immersion Class, or private Spanish online tutoring.
Outschool also has an All About DÍa De Los Muertos class for those curious about this tradition.
If any of the famous Latine/Hispanic individuals sparked your curiosity, be sure to check out this class on Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Or this class, Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month Making Traditional Hispanic Desserts, taught 100% in Spanish.
Whether you’re a native Spanish speaker or someone trying to learn more about Latine/Hispanic culture and history, Outschool has a class for you. Check out Outschool’s Latine/Hispanic classes to immerse yourself in these cultures this fall or any time of year.
We hope you’ll find time to help your family celebrate this Hispanic Heritage Month and learn more about this incredible culture.
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