Whether a first-generation arrival or a descendant, those who identify as Latinx and/or Hispanic cannot have their history grouped into one box. With this in mind, the U.S. observes Latinx Heritage Month from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 each year to celebrate, uplift, and commemorate the cultures and contributions of people from Spain, Mexico, and Central and South American and Caribbean countries.
You may see the celebration referred to as “Hispanic Heritage Month,” as it was originally named when it was created as a week-long observance by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. California Congressman George E. Brown represented East Los Angeles and a large part of the San Gabriel Valley, areas that had large Latinx and Hispanic populations. Brown introduced the idea of recognizing these populations and their important contributions to the fabric of America.
It would remain a week-long observance until 1989. Two years prior, California Representative Esteban E. Torres suggested a month would be more appropriate to include more events and celebrations and deepen the country’s understanding and appreciation of Latinx and Hispanic cultures. This led to a successful bill passed in 1988, and in 1989, President George H.W. Bush officially declared Sep 15-Oct 15 National Hispanic Heritage Month.
The observance has always begun on September 15, to honor Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua’s declarations of independence from Spain on Sep 15, 1821. When President Johnson declared the inaugural Hispanic Heritage Week, he cited these five Central American countries and also Mexico, which declared its independence from Spain on Sep 16, 1810. Chile declared their independence from Spain just 2 days after Mexico. Belize’s independence from Great Britain is also a September date, declared on Sep 21, 1981.
As the celebration has grown and evolved, so too has the knowledge that “Hispanic” is a term that doesn’t include many of the people this month is supposed to recognize. While not intentionally exclusive, it is a term that refers specifically to people with Spanish ancestry, and also is associated with colonialism throughout Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The government has historically used “Hispanic” as an umbrella term for anyone in the U.S. with an ethnic/racial background from any of these areas and it can therefore exclude those who don’t speak Spanish, such as indigenous and Brazilian peoples.
Thus the growing awareness, acceptance, and usage of the term “Latinx”, which can include people with backgrounds from multiple countries and ethnicities, as well as recognizing non-binary gender identities. “Latino” gained traction as a term that was more inclusive than Hispanic, both in terms of language and geography. However, the “o” ending of Latino designates it as a default masculine term. Latinx, therefore, has emerged as the most inclusive term. Noting the importance and difficulty of finding one word to serve as a unifying identifier, Juliana Martinez, author and a professor at American University, states, “There is a lot of doubt that one single term can define and group all these populations together, but at the same time the use of one term does have the potential to help consolidate these communities and create a broader political group to defend their rights and defend collective action.”