Tomorrow marks the commencement of a very special month: Hispanic Heritage Month. This day begins a month-long celebration of the amazing contributions to American society and culture. The purpose of this article is to explain the history behind this month-long tribute to the countless Hispanic-Americans who have, in a thousand different ways, made the United States a more just, kind, and happier society.
Why begin a month-long celebration in the middle of a month?
Beginning any of the heritage months in the middle of a month may strike some people seeking to participate in the festivities as a bit strange. There’s actually a historical reason why this month begins on September 15th as opposed to September 1st or October 1st.
This date was initially chosen to celebrate the legendary Grito De Dolores (Cry of Dolores) which occurred on September 16, 1810 and marked the beginning of the Mexican War For Independence. September 15th is also the independence day of numerous Central American states, including Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Those Central American states proclaimed their independence in 1821 with the passage of the Act of Independence of Central America.
The actual text of the Act of Independence of Central America was decided in a meeting which took place on September 15, 1821, where it was written by Honduran intellectual and political titan Jose Cecilio del Valle and for months it would circulate throughout the soon-to-be-independent states of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. While there would be votes in the days, weeks, and months to come on what would come next for the region, September 15th is still celebrated as a shared independence day throughout many Central American states.
Aside from a joint Central American independence day, and Mexican independence day, there are additional reasons why this particular sequence of days was chosen for Hispanic Heritage Month. Chilean independence day is celebrated on September 18th, Belize’s independence day is celebrated on September 21st, Cuba’s is on October 10th (though another holiday associated with Cuban independence is May 20th, which is the day that in 1902 Cuba, as an independent republic, witnessed the swearing in of its first president, Tomas Estrada) with the Grito de Yara, and some nations in South and Central America celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on October 10th as well.
Hispanic Heritage Month was initially Hispanic Heritage Week and first started in 1968. For twenty years it was only a week long, but in 1988 the week was extended to a whole month and since then every year this month has heralded in a celebration of the rich tapestry of Hispanic cultures and the brilliant ways they affect and color life in the United States.
What does this month mean for Hispanic humanists?
There will never be one clear answer to that, as there is much diversity among humanists in the United States as there is among humanists in South, Central, and some parts of North America. But at least for this humanist, the celebration of Hispanic heritage means celebrating and highlighting the myriad ways that my community makes the United States a better place to live.
The contributions of Hispanic Americans to the diverse tapestry that is American culture include everything from Hamilton and In The Heights, both by Lin Manuel-Miranda, to wonderful books like My Two Border Towns by David Bowles. Hispanic Americans have contributed everything from books and works of art to scientific inventions and historical knowledge to this nation. Our contributions to the country are subtly tangible in every aspect of American life, and this celebration of our diverse history and range of accomplishments never fails to excite me or millions of other Hispanic Americans.
Hispanic Heritage Month is a chance to glorify and celebrate a community that routinely faces racially motivated hate and throughout this nation’s history has been criminalized, slandered, and endured all sorts of trials. To be Hispanic American in the United States is synonymous with being resilient, and with being passionate, and there are good reasons for both of those traits to be associated with our culture, and with our contributions. I personally am excited to have a chance to celebrate this month alongside many wonderful humanists, both ones with similar cultural backgrounds to my own and those from places and families vastly unlike my own. I hope you take this month and use it to learn about the many contributions Hispanic Americans have made to this wonderful country.