Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month: Celebrating All Year

Cait O'ConnorBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better

TL;DR:

  • Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15th-October 15th.
  • The terms Hispanic and Latino have different origins and cultural and political meanings.
  • Hispanic primarily refers to individuals who come from Spanish-speaking nations.
  • Latinx offers a more ethnic and geographic understanding and includes individuals who come from non-Spanish-speaking countries.
  • Latine and Latinx are gender-neutral forms of Latino.
  • Latinx and Hispanic cultures should be represented, understood, and discussed in our classrooms.

I would like to give a tremendous shout-out to Selena Carríon, who helped me read, re-read, edit, and revise this article. Selena helped me put into the words the important historicism of identity and context needed to write this post. She is an incredible educator based in NYC, who I look up to and look to in so much of my practice. Selena, thank you for your watchful and critical eye on this piece and for all the work you do. Thank you. 

Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is a celebration of Hispanic and Latinx culture in America and around the world. We celebrate Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month in the United States from September 15-October 15.

The United States is currently the home of over 62 million Hispanic/Latinx people. The most popular countries of origin include Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and El Salvador. Each has a distinct and unique culture and dialects worthy of celebration every day of the year. 

Why start in the middle of the month? 

Most celebration months start on the first and end on the last day of the month. Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is unique such that it begins on September 15 and ends on October 15. 

This is to commemorate the liberation of five Latin American nations: Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These five countries all became independent from Spain on September 15, 1821.

Latinx and Hispanic: The Cultural and Political Differences

Many people use Hispanic and Latino/a/x interchangeably to refer to people of Spanish-speaking national origin. However, these terms have distinct cultural and political meanings and significance. 

Hispanic appears on census surveys; it refers to people who came from Spanish-speaking countries in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. This initiated the racialization of some Hispanic people, thus giving them proximity to white American assimilation and social capital.  Colonization was the common thread between these nations, though they had different cultures, ways of being, and dialects.

The umbrella term “Hispanic” is of the word “Hispaniola,” which was the name given to the island landmass housing present-day Haiti and Republica Dominicana. Hispaniola was the site of Columbus’ landing in and ‘discovering’ of the Americas, upon which he enslaved Taino and Arawak peoples under the rule of the Spanish crown. Hispaniola split into two nations with distinct cultures and influences. Haiti was occupied by the Spanish until 1625, and the French from 1626-1804. Haiti became the first established Black Republic. DR did not declare its independence on the other side of the island until 1844.

The term Hispanic became a way of oversimplifying the richness of different Spanish-speaking cultures, especially given the distinct cultures that emerged on Hispaniola itself. Many feel that Hispanic creates a monolithic image of Spanish-speaking and Latinized peoples, incorrectly representing the richness and diversity of dozens of cultures. It is also widely rejected for its adjacency to whiteness and European-descendant Latin identity. 

Latino/a/x/e

The term “Latino” emerged and then reemerged to include more ethnic and geographic understandings of Spanish-speaking identity. It was a shortening of Latino Americano. It eventually became used by people in Caribbean nations like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

‘Latino’ also includes Brazilian people, whereas the term Hispanic did/does not. Brazil is a majority Portuguese-speaking nation situated on a continent of Spanish-speaking countries in South America. 

‘Latinx’ is a more recent iteration of Latino/a, and the ‘x’ is meant to drop the gendered signifier. Replacing the end vowel with an ‘x’ is a way to include all people who are of Latino/a descent. The term pushes back against the gendered norms of the Spanish language. Even more recent is the term “Latine,” which also offers gender-neutral language and is easier to say in Spanish and on-screen readers.

The term Latino, as well as its gender-neutral iterations, have created a verbal and political distance from Spain. This distance asserts the unique cultures cultivated in places all over the North and South American continents (and beyond). In a 2013 census, it was found that most people who would be considered Hispanic or Latinx identified themselves as their country of origin, thus asserting pride in their identity, regardless of Spain’s influence.

Latino as an identifier has a strong political connection, unifying people over a shared culture. This matters especially in the study of Latin history, politics, culture, and struggle. From here, members of the community and those adjacent can assert their uniqueness in ethnic, geographic, and regional identity and history, which are important to notice and celebrate. 

Latinx History Begins with the Indigenous

The history of Latinx and Hispanic people is also a history of indigeneity. Prior to Spanish colonization, current Central/Latin America had large populations of Tainos, Arawak, Aztec, Maya, Inca, and more. They speak languages such as Quechua (Peru/South America), Quiche (Guatemala), and Nahuatl (Mexico). Today, nearly a quarter of Peruvian people speak a Quechuan language. Indigenous culture is still alive in present-day Latin America, preserved in the Indigenous people of each region. Even now, Quechua continues to influence the dialect of Spanish spoken in areas of South America such as Chile. 

They deserve well-rounded and whole representation in our schools, classrooms, on our faculty and staff, and in our communities. Click To Tweet

Indigenous Latinx Culture is Alive

As teachers, we must be mindful of the ways that we pursue students with Indigenous bilingualism. We cannot assume that a student coming from Central, Latin or South America is a Spanish speaker by default. Many students, especially from rural areas of Latin America, speak Indigenous languages like Quechua and Quiche.

Many people consider Indigenous culture and people in the past tense. This is especially true as the influence of Western countries like Spain continued to colonize modern-day Latin America. But Indigenous people like Bobby Sanchez and Rigoberta Menchu aim to keep the culture and power of Indigenous people of the Americas alive and in our consciousness. 

Indigeneity and the confluence of colonization, labor, and identity have also influenced major socio-political phenomena like the Chicano movement, created by labor activist Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who together co-founded the National Farmworkers Association. With the collective power of the Chicano movement, Mexicans began to reclaim their heritage and their rights. They sought labor protections at their agricultural jobs across the southern and southwestern United States.

Understanding Latinidad in Today’s Context 

Hispanic and Latinx students are far from a monolith. They deserve well-rounded and whole representation in our schools, classrooms, on our faculty and staff, and in our communities. Latinx history is a long history of indigenousness, colonization, struggle, creation, culture, and resilience. 

Narratives by and about Latinx and Hispanic people should show their multiple dimensions. Stories of borders, migration, and deportation are important conversations to have, but we mustn’t reduce them to a ‘both sides’ issue.

[scroll down to keep reading]

The humanity and experience of Hispanic and Latinx people informs our teaching. Teachers should learn all we can about events such as national border violence, government destabilization, labor, and trade. Additionally, we must make space for the power and contribution of Latinx people. We can show the joy and hope and strength that they possess.

One of my favorite texts for the classroom is Lulu Delacre’s Us, in Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos. She writes stories of the everyday life of Latine children in the United States. I’m using it in my own classroom this year to introduce students to the concept of translanguaging, and help them build relationships to other languages and identities.

What’s beautiful about this book is that it sheds light on so many different experiences of Latinidad, through writing, artwork, and story. I look forward to the ways that Delacre’s work will inspire my own students to write short stories that represent them, their identities, and the things that matter to them as current eighth-graders. Delacre’s book is a great starting point for representing Latine voices in the classroom and continuing to all year long. 

Representation Matters

Even after the month of October ends, it’s important to represent Latin and Hispanic voices in your classroom all year. Students benefit from this representation, whether it is a mirror or a window to them, for a number of reasons.

Whether or not you teach Latinx and Hispanic students in your own classroom, telling the stories and celebrating the diversity of the Latinx community matters. Migration and the current narrative about them in news cycles, recent and current events, and even in our students’ history education about Latinized people is just one dimension of Hispanic and Latinx existence. Students should see Latinx characters and people experiencing joy, hard work, family, laughter, and the mundane. Those stories have just as much reality to them as the struggle of migration, liberation, and colonialism that still exists for Hispanic and Latinx people.

Visit the links below for some resources and reading you can do this month and every month on Hispanic/Latinx history, culture, language, and people.

References

https://www.history.com/news/hispanic-latino-latinx-chicano-background?li_source=LI&li_medium=m2m-rcw-history

https://www.history.com/news/chicano-movement

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/09/09/key-facts-about-u-s-latinos-for-national-hispanic-heritage-month/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quechuan_languages

https://bimi.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/shared/BIMI%20Policy%20Brief%20Indigenous%20Immigrants%20from%20Latin%20America%20and%20their%20Children%20in%20the%20American%20School%20System%20Increasing%20Visibility%20and%20Empowerment%20Policy%20Brief%20Almasalkhi%20Baquedano%20Lopez%20Berkeley%20Interdisciplinary%20M.pdf

Reading for Teachers and Students

Youth Held at the Border: Immigration, Education and the Politics of Inclusion by Leigh Patel

Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora

Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

My Two Border Towns by David Bowles

Escucha Me Voz / Hear my Voice by Warren Binford

My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Land of Cranes by Aida Salazar

“Borders” by Denice Frohman


About Cait O’Connor

Cait O’Connor is a fourth-year public school English/ESOL educator in New York, committed to social justice and equity in education and beyond.