Editor’s note: The following story originally appeared in the Record-Journal on June 15, 2021.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a month-long observance, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, celebrating the history, culture and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
According to Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, professor of Latino & Latin American Studies at the University of Connecticut, the idea started in the 1960s when the U.S. government decided to change and reclassify individuals from Latin America under the term “Hispanic” in the census. Prior to that, people from Latin America were pressuring the U.S. government to provide a time to celebrate their culture.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson established Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan extended it to Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Sept. 15 start date carries special significance. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua declared independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821. Mexico’s independence day is Sept. 16.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is important because you can’t really understand U.S. history without understanding Latin American history and vice versa,” said Carmen Coury, an assistant professor of history at Southern Connecticut State University, whose focus is on Latin American History.
She explained that when the U.S. started to expand west, former Mexican territory became part of America.
“We always think about people who decided to cross the border to come to the United States,” said Coury. “But in many cases, the border crossed them.”
Although it’s important to have a designated month, Overmyer-Velazquez said it is important to celebrate history and culture year round.
“It’s a moment to understand the complexity of who we are,” said Overmyer-Velazquez. “We live with such segregation and division that we must take this moment to understand who we are more broadly and share our culture.”
Evelyn Robles-Rivas, supervisor of Language & Community Partnerships for Meriden Public Schools, said it is important to encourage a growing Latino population to share their experiences with the community.
“We are more than our Spanish language,” Robles-Rivas said. “We have a lot of people who have come here from their homeland and they haven’t lost their uniqueness as Latino people.”
For more information on National Hispanic Heritage Month, visit https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/.