Latino Heritage Month, A Month to Celebrate All Types of Diversity
Latino heritage celebrations in the United States began in 1958 as “Hispanic Heritage Week” under President Lyndon Johnson. Originally a weeklong celebration of Hispanic and Latino communities, President Ronald Reagan expanded these celebrations in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. Since then, it has been recognized as Hispanic Heritage Month, and it begins each year on September 15 and ends on October 15. This month we celebrate diversity, and all the contributions the Latino population has made to American society and culture.
Throughout history, millions of people around the world have left their home countries looking for a better life in the United States. Since 1960, the Latino population has increased from 6.3 million to roughly 55 million people. It is estimated to grow to 119 million by 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Although there are people emigrating from every country in Latin America, according to the Pew Research Center, the four largest Latino populations in the United States, are: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, and Cuban. People of Mexican origin are the largest subgroup, at 64 percent of the Latino population.
I immigrated to the United States from El Salvador at the age of 15. I am currently a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying Sociology and Communication Studies. As I learn more about the history of Hispanic and Latino communities in the United States, my sense of pride increases to be part of such a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse group of people in the United States. I have met people from many different cultural backgrounds, people from Colombia, Argentina, Honduras and many other countries. It is always a pleasure to converse about both our differences and the similarities we have in common.
I’ve also learned that there is no single definition of what it means to be a Latino in the United States. For some Latino and Hispanic families, the country of their ancestors may still resonate through their food, traditions, stories, language, and identity. To me, being Latino means to live by the values and morals that my family taught me. As a first generation college student, I have learned to appreciate the opportunity I have been given by my parents to attend an excellent university.
Our diversity is one of the things that I value the most about being Hispanic. The Latino and Hispanic populations in the Unites States are people of different ethnicities, cultures, and even sexual orientations and gender identities. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, about 1.4 million Latinos identify as LGBT, so it is important that in this month we not only celebrate and be proud about being Latino, but also that we celebrate those Latinos who identify as LGBT.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it is important to reflect on our own personal stories about our Hispanic and Latino identities, and to share and celebrate the beautiful diversity of our experiences.
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow