The people who make up the Hispanic and Latin American tapestry within the U.S. are as diverse as the various countries from which they come. Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicks off Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15, is ripe with opportunities to observe, celebrate and learn about the rich cultures and contributions of Hispanic Americans in the overarching American story.
What started as Hispanic Heritage Week under former President Lyndon B. Johnson was expanded to a monthlong observance 20 years later by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The start of Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the commemoration of the independence of five Central American nations from Spain: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates its independence the following day, and Chile celebrates its independence day Sept. 18. As of July 2022, Hispanics are the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority in the U.S., with more than 63 million residents making up more than 19 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The term ‘Hispanic’ is the official U.S. designation for people of Spanish-speaking ancestry,” says Eduardo Pagán, a history professor at Arizona State University with expertise in Hispanic history and culture. The term “Latino,” Pagán says, “recognizes that Spanish-speaking people from Latin America are not European but a mix of Europeans and American Indigenous people.” He adds that “Latinx” is an effort to make the designation more gender-neutral, since most Spanish words are gendered masculine or feminine.
There’s nothing monolithic about Latin Americans. They encompass different races, skin tones and countries of origin; some speak Spanish, and some don’t. (And if they do, they may use their own colloquialisms to refer to the same things). A traditional dish in one country has different ingredients and flavors from its neighbor’s iteration. These characteristics are evident from Mexico to the southernmost city in the world in Argentina to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“Hispanics or Latinos have contributed to American life since the American Revolution, fighting in every war since then,” says Emily Key, head of audience engagement and education at the National Museum of the American Latino. “Latinos today continue to advance communities across the country as small-business owners, veterans, teachers and public servants, among many other professions. Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to recognize their achievements and contributions to our national story.”
Here’s how you can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month around the country through enriching arts, culture, food and learning events.
Food, music and dance festivals
The International Latino Cultural Center is hosting a Chicago Latino Dance Festival. It’s a four-week event starting at 2 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Throughout the month, 37 dance groups will perform various styles of Latin American dance, including tango, Chilean cueca and Indigenous dances from the Quechua, Purepecha and Zapotec nations, according to the cultural center’s website. Attendees for the inaugural event should reserve a free ticket online. Check the cultural center’s calendar to see the full list of events.