Celebrating Hispanic heritage

by Diana Castro-Vazquez

Hispanic Heritage Month started on September 15 and runs until October 15. This month is used to recognize and appreciate the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans and their ancestors that came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America to the history, culture and achievements of the United States.

At first, Hispanic Heritage Month was not a month-long celebration. When the U.S. started celebrating the achievements of Hispanics, it began as a week-long celebration. On Sept. 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush became the first president to declare the month’s span from September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Now, therefore, I, George Bush, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month beginning Sept. 15, 1989, and ending Oct. 15, 1989, as National Hispanic Heritage Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies and activities, and I urge them to reaffirm their devotion to the principles of freedom and individual dignity – the common heritage of all Americans.”

Hispanic Heritage Month is very important to Hispanic families and communities and is acknowledged all over the country. It is important to acknowledge the important figures of the Hispanic/Latino culture.

In the present day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, is a very important figure to not only Hispanics, but female Hispanics. AOC was born Oct. 13, 1989, and belongs to a Puerto Rican family. AOC became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, at the age of 29.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is also from a Puerto Rican family, born Jan. 16, 1980, and is a composer, actor, writer and activist. You might know him from “Moana,” as he wrote a majority of the music for the movie. He also wrote, composed and acted in “Hamilton.” He has won several Tony awards, an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize and a Kennedy Center Honor. He was also given the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grant in 2015. Miranda is also noted for his charitable work, particularly relating to debt and disaster relief in Puerto Rico.

American Tejano singer, Selena Quintanilla Pérez, made such an impact in her lifetime. So big that even people who were not born when she passed away still look up to her and listen to her songs. Selena was born April 16, 1971, and passed away March 31, 1995. Selena, also known as the “Queen of Tejano music,” won the Tejano Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1987, which she won nine consecutive times. In 2020, Billboard magazine put her in third place on their list of “Greatest Latino Artists of All Time.” During the 1980s, she was often criticized and was refused bookings at venues across Texas for performing Tejano music – a male-dominated music genre. She sadly passed away in 1995 after being shot by her former manager and best friend Yolanda Saldívar. Many films and shows have been made about her since her passing.

Ellen Ochoa was born May 10, 1958. She is an American engineer, former astronaut and former director of the Johnson Space Center. She is of Mexican descent and was the first Hispanic-American woman to go to space when she joined the nine-day mission aboard the Discovery shuttle in 1993. She went on to complete three more missions after this.

Cesar Chavez was born March 31, 1927, to a Mexican family and died April 23, 1993. He was a labor leader and civil rights activist. He worked as a manual laborer and was concerned with farm workers’ rights. He became involved with the Community Service Organization (CSO) in California, an important civil rights organization for Latinx people. Chavez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dolores Huerta was born April 10, 1930, and like Chavez, was also from a Mexican family and worked as a civil rights activist. She and Cesar Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and led peaceful protests. She is the face of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, whose mission is to “inspire and organize communities to build volunteer organizations empowered to pursue social justice.” Huerta has received several awards and acknowledgments throughout her life, including the inaugural Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

With a couple more weeks to go, it is important to learn and honor everything that Hispanics have done for this country and the people. There are many more influential Hispanics that have made an impact on Hispanic
communities. People of all ages look up to those that have come and gone such as Quintanilla or Chavez, but we cannot forget that there are still people making a change, like AOC or Miranda. As Antonio Tijerino, president & CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation said, “You are not lucky to be here. The world needs your perspective. They are lucky to have you.”


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