National Hispanic Heritage Month (NHHM) recognizes the heritage, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors come from Spanish-speaking countries such as Spain, Mexico and those in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
The history of NHHM.
National Hispanic Heritage Month has been observed from September 15 to October 15 every year. The dates are significant because September 15 marks the anniversary of independence for Latinx American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Meanwhile, Mexico and Chile recognize their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively.
Today the celebrations last the whole month — though the commemoration of Hispanic Heritage started as just a week-long event in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and wasn't expanded to a month-long celebration until 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. In 1968, congress passed Pub. L. 90-498 (PDF, 153KB), which authorized and requested President Johnson to issue an annual proclamation denoting the week containing September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week.
President Johnson issued the first Presidential Proclamation 3869, which stated, in part:
Wishing to pay special tribute to the Hispanic tradition, and having in mind the fact that our five Central American neighbors celebrate their Independence Day on the fifteenth of September and the Republic of Mexico on the sixteenth, the Congress by House Joint Resolution 1299, has requested the President to issue annually a proclamation designating the week including September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week.
Then, between the years of 1969 and 1988, Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan also issued a series of annual proclamations — all of which designated a week in September (again, including September 15 and 16) as National Hispanic Heritage Week.
Hispanic Heritage Month was officially enacted into law on August 17, 1988 via the Pub. L. 100-402 (PDF, 58KB), which amended Pub. L. 90-498 (PDF, 153KB). President George H.W. Bush then issued the first proclamation, Presidential Proclamation 6021, for National Hispanic Heritage Month on September 14, 1989. And, between 1990 and 2009, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have also issued annual proclamations for National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Which countries celebrate NHHM?
The United States of America celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, acknowledging the aforementioned American Latinx histories and cultures. While Spanish-speaking countries may also have their own celebrations, the national holiday is recognized under United States law.
5 ways to appropriately recognize the Latinx community.
1. Bring your family to an exhibit.
Visit a museum that has a Hispanic exhibit to honor NHHM. For example, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of American History is going to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with “Making History, Sharing Culture,” featuring Disney Pixar’s revered movie, "Coco." On Saturday, October 6, visitors to the museum can also participate in learning activities, such as listening to storytelling through animation, watching a cooking demonstration by Mexican American chef Zarela Martinez, meeting "Coco" co-director Adrian Molina and animator Alonso Martinez and dancing to the music of Grupo Bella, which is an all-female mariachi band.
2. Trace your roots for Hispanic ancestry.
Trace back your own heritage to get to know your Hispanic roots (or to see if you have any!). You can do this on sites like Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, 23andMe or MyHeritage. You can research your ancestor's migration to the United States, and you might even get lucky enough to connect with distant cousins in your home Hispanic country if you have any.
3. Genuinely engage with hispanic culture and communities.
While many foods, customs and Spanish dialects overlap, no two hispanic countries are the same. Therefore, the best way to recognize and celebrate Latinx culture is to immerse yourself in it. You can visit Hispanic mom-and-pop shops in your area to try some authentic dishes or listen out for Celia Cruz's "¡Azucar!" in one of her top-charting salsa hits. You can even attend a fun social event — say a beginner's bachata class — to learn how to dance the four-count step.
4. Take action in support of the hispanic community.
Even more important than celebrating Latinx culture this month, is advocating for hispanic communities, their families and the overall well-being of Latinxs year round. You can show your activism by fighting back against ICE, familiarize yourself with Latinx current events like the protests in Puerto Rico or learn about the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 which "cancels and prohibits removal proceedings against certain aliens and provides such aliens with a path toward permanent resident status."
5. Attend a local NHHM event.
There are tons of local Hispanic Heritage Months events going on from parades to concerts to restaurant specials. Check out your local city's site and/or reach out to the municipality board to find out what events are happening in your area.
The National Zoo, for example, hosts a family day called ZooFiesta that includes live music and educational activities that focus on conservation in Central and South America. The animal keepers, for example, present talks, feedings and demonstrations featuring all kinds of native animals from Andean bears, sloths, golden lion tamarins, Panamanian golden frogs and more.
Meanwhile, you can also meet local artists, musicians and dancers, as well as join in the festivities over in Washington, D.C. in partnership with Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School.
Likewise, at the Library of Congress, representative Pete Aguilar — who represents the 31st Congressional District of California and serves on the House Appropriations Committee — will discuss issues facing people of color today and his experience as a Latinx member of Congress.