In 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson declared September 15 the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Week. Decades later, Ronald Reagan eventually extended the festivities to a month-long observance celebrating the culture of U.S. residents whose roots are in Spain, Mexico, or Spanish speaking countries in Central America, South America, or the Caribbean.
Now, 40 years later, Hispanic Heritage Month is still something we hear about on PBS commercials…but how much does it really resonate with those of us who ditched classifications like “Hispanic” a long time ago? Or with those of us who can’t comprehend how an observance simultaneously incorporates the independence anniversaries of seven Latin American countries — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on the 15th of September, Mexico the 16th and Chile the 18th — while at the same highlighting Christopher Columbus Day (Dia de la Raza) on October 12th?
The contributions Latinos make to American society deserve recognition and we have a responsibility to raise awareness, but maybe a government-sanctioned timeline isn’t necessary. Being that Latinos are the largest ethnic minority and will be the majority come 2042 (according to the US Census), the focus should be on daily dialogue and creating an atmosphere where Hispanic Heritage Month-type talks are more common than not, year-round.
The issue is not with the celebration itself. Fellow Latinos are organizing events to spread knowledge and have a little fun. That’s fine. What we need is fellow Americans – of any ethnic background – actively participating, whether it’s in September or in the middle of January, and whether it’s a flamenco dance presentation, or in a conversation with a person they’d normally ignore, like the busboy who clears their table.
That’s all. Oh, and maybe a name change. Latino Heritage Month has a nice ring to it.