The History of Hispanic Heritage Month

October 14, 2020

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Written by: Miguel Cardona, Cisneros Class of 2023

This celebratory month actually began as a week-long celebration when it was first introduced in June of 1968 by California Congressman George E. Brown. Towards the end of the initial Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s there was a growing movement to recognize the contributions of minority populations in America. Brown represented East L.A., along with the majority of the San Gabriel Valley, which are both predominantly Latinx communities and he wanted to make sure these communities and the role they played throughout American history was nationally recognized.

On September 17th, 1968, Congress passed Public Law 90–48 which officially authorized and requested the president to issue annual proclamations declaring September 15th and 16th the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Week. President Lyndon B. Johnson officially signed and put Public Law 90–48 into action that very same day.

After many years, it became apparent that one week wasn’t enough to properly observe, recognize. and celebrate Hispanic heritage and cultures. So in 1987, Representative Esteban E. Torres of California proposed expanding the week-long celebration to the current 31 days. The following year, Senator Paul Simon of Illinois introduced a version of Representative Torres’s bill, which was successfully passed by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan on August 17th, 1988. On September 14th, 1989, President George H.W. Bush became the first president to officially declare the current 31 day period from September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

But why these days in particular?

The reasoning behind choosing these specific 31 days is that it coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of several Latin American countries. September 15th marks the Independence Day celebrations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which all declared independence from Spain on that day in 1821. Mexico declared independence from Spain on September 16th, 1810, while Chile declared independence from Spain on September 18th, 1810 and Belize declared independence from Great Britain on September 21st, 1981.

At GW, we celebrate a more inclusive version of this observance by the name of Latinx Heritage Celebration. This year, even if it is very different from previous celebrations, we are all still able to join the university community in celebrating the history and cultural expressions of the Latinx community. This year’s Latinx Heritage Celebration theme is “¿Dónde Está Mi Gente?” and it focuses on educating and enriching the GW community on Latinx heritage through a series of programs, presentations, and events throughout the months of September and October. 

Happy Latinx Heritage Celebration!

Miguel Cardona is a second-year Cisneros Scholar in the GW Columbian College of Arts & Sciences. He’s studying political science, and is the founder of Boys To Leaders in his hometown of Newark, NJ. Miguel’s views are his own and not necessarily reflective of the Cisneros Institute.