Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 because this day marks the anniversary of independence for five Hispanic countries - Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Other Hispanic American Countries of Origin are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico and Spain. In addition, on September 16, 1810, Mexico proclaimed independence from Spain on September 16, 1810, but acquired their independence in 1821.
Chile declared their independence from Spain on September 18, 1810. Taking advantage of Spain’s weakened position after Napoleon’s invasion, high class Chileans convened a "cabildo abierto" (open town meeting) in Santiago to declare Chile’s independence from Spain. As other Latin Americans, Chilean leaders were influenced by the revolutions in the US, France, and Haitit.
Since the "official" inception of the term "Hispanic" in 1973, its uses have led to controversy. Originally applied to Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW); Office of Education, for the purpose of developing racial and ethnic categories which it could use for data-gathering purposes, the term "Hispanic" encompassed Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central Americans, South American, Caribbean, and Spanish peoples who share some common cultural values. Since Hispanics can be of any race, to help keep their data separate, HEW further clarified the "White" and "Black" categories with definition, "not of Hispanic origin." Other Federal Agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Bureau of the Census soon followed suit in using the term.
How then should the Hispanic population be defined? Should Hispanics be lumped into one group such as "those who come from Spain or Latin America?" Hispanics may be of any race and have a multicultural ethnic identity. Also not all Hispanics speak Spanish.
It was not until the 1970 census that the concept of reporting on Hispanics as a distinct group existed and then only in a 5 percent sample of the census questionnaires distributed. The 1980 Census was the first to use the "Spanish origin or descent" question on 100 percent of the questionnaires. The 1990 census attempted to provide Hispanics in the United States with a more detailed identity. In the 1990 census, those surveyed were asked to classify themselves as Hispanic if they fit into one of the following categories: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Other Spanish/Hispanic origin. The category was broken down further by providing a write-in line for subgroups.
Recent census figures show that there are more than 35 million Hispanic Americans in this country. Their ranks have increased 58 percent through the last decade. Hispanic Americans will soon be the largest minority group in the United States, making up 24 percent of the population by 2050. In the State of Maryland, the number of Hispanics grew more than 82% since 1990, making up more than 4 percent of the population statewide.
The Texas Civil Rights Project and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund were two of the first civil rights groups to bring a law suit against the state of Texas demanding an increase in the head count of Hispanics. The purpose of such a lawsuit was to ensure that Hispanics would not be shorted politically since census numbers are used to redraw political boundaries.
All those whom it refers do still not accept the term "Hispanic." Other terms, such as "Latino," or "Chicano," have been suggested. Latino implies a background stemming from Latin America, or the world of Latin (Roman) influence in Europe. In this sense, "Latino" might include Guayanses, Brazilians, French, Romanians, or others whose culture is decidedly not of Spanish origin.
The U.S. Hispanic Population has grown tremendously in the past decade and demographers predict this trend will continue to grow thus becoming the largest minority group. Like America, the Hispanic culture within our country is diverse. Whether we look to the large Puerto Rican community in New York, the influx of Central Americans to the Washington Metropolitan region, Mexican Americans who have a long history in California, or Cuban Americans who have made South Florida their home, Hispanic American culture reflects the breadth and depth of the cultures of their nations of origin. Hispanic Americans are changing the face of America, challenging our tendency to view the world in terms of black and white and teaching us to accept ethnic diversity as well as racial differences. I strongly believe that we will live up to the ideals of our Nation’s founding only when all Americans have equal access to the building blocks of a strong society - education, employment, health care, housing and political participation.
We must make sure that basic services and opportunities are available to Hispanic Americans. And, as this segment of the population grows, it will be increasingly important for educators, hospitals, civil services, and financial institutions to be able to communicate effectively, provide bilingual materials where appropriate, and be aware of cultural differences when delivering services. Hispanic Americans deserve to take full part in their communities and language barriers should not prevent them from doing so.
Throughout our history, different groups have come to this country contributing their culture, values and strengths to make the United States the strong diverse country that it is. The story of immigrants searching for a better life is a story that has been replayed countless times throughout our history, sustaining the growth of America since her beginning. Hispanic Americans continue this tradition.
(Sources:) Authority/comment: Public Law 100_402, U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes