The Significance Of Hispanic Heritage Month And How To Celebrate

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

National Hispanic Heritage Month occurs from September 15th to October 15th every year to honor and recognize Hispanic Americans and immigrants throughout the US. For those with Hispanic heritage in Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, or South America, you may be able to celebrate this holiday with your family and learn more about where your family originated. 

Others can also learn about Hispanic heritage, origins, and cultures by checking out the Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage exhibit each September to October.

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The history of National Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic Heritage Week

Hispanic Heritage Month started as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 by California congressional representative George E. Brown during the President Lyndon Johnson administration to celebrate heritage rooted in Latino history. In 1988, it was expanded by President Ronald Reagan from September 15th to October 15th and was signed into law by Congress. The dates represent significant occurrences for Hispanic countries, including: 

  • Mexico's Day of Independence on September 16th 

  • Chile's Day of Independence on September 18th

  • The Independence Day of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador on September 15th 

It was extended into October due to Columbus Day, which was once a significant holiday for many Americans. However, due to its controversial roots, many Americans are now celebrating Indigenous People's Day on the second Monday of October instead. As some Hispanic people may also have Indigenous heritage, Indigenous People's Day may also be celebrated nationwide by those who connect to Indigenous roots from Central or South America. 

Who qualifies as a person with Hispanic heritage? 

"Hispanic" is officially defined to mean someone with heritage from a Spanish-speaking country, often connected to those within Latin America. A few countries are excluded from this definition, including Portugal and Brazil, as they speak Portuguese. Although Brazilians are from South America and are often considered Latinx, they may choose not to claim a Hispanic identity. 

Why is Hispanic Heritage Month significant? 

Hispanic Heritage Month can be significant because it connects many Hispanic Americans and Latinos living in the US with their cultures, along with the reasons below. 

It helps Americans connect with their ancestral roots and culture

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were over 62 million Hispanics living in the US in 2020, representing almost 19% of the US population. For those born American but with heritage in Hispanic countries, celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month can allow them to learn more about their culture, understand their family's contributions to American achievements or Hispanic history, and learn about their ancestors. 

Many Latin Americans made historical advancements in U.S. society. Learning about these people, their countries of origin, and how they impacted current U.S. culture can be one way for many to connect with their roots. This may allow them to pass on their heritage to younger generations. 

It outlines diversity 

Hispanic Heritage Month outlines diversity through the 20 different countries with Spanish as their official language. Each country has unique cultures, cuisine, and practices worldwide. Hispanic can be a broad term, so each celebration may look different. 

Celebrating the month doesn't necessarily mean only celebrating one culture or nation. All cultures can be discussed, and significant historical moments can be outlined. An American with Mexican heritage may celebrate the month entirely differently than one with Argentinian heritage, although there can be similarities in their practices or terms.  

It connects Hispanic individuals with events at the National Park Service and other organizations

According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanics make up nearly one in five people in the U.S. Hispanic individuals growing up in the United States might feel isolated from n​​on-Hispanic peers or feel that they don't have a connection with their past roots. This month of the year can help these individuals find resources, education, and events that allow them to immerse in their culture within the US. Some of the events celebrated in 2022 included: 

  • Hispanic Heritage Month Family Festival 

  • History of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962

  • Exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution

  • Events and resources at the National Park Service, such as “Mi Parque, Mi Historia”

  • Spanish Storytime 

  • Hispanic Book Club 

Each year, as the event gets closer, you can find more events on the official government Hispanic Heritage Month website. 

How to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month this year

This year, there are many ways you can celebrate Hispanic Heritage rooted in a Spanish-speaking country or raise awareness of celebrations in your community. 

Learn Spanish 

Although many Hispanic and Latino Americans are connected with their family in other countries or speak Spanish at home, some may only speak English or only know a bit of Spanish. Although you don't need to speak Spanish to be Hispanic, you can learn more about the language to connect with your roots and potentially visit the country your family comes from. 

Note that if you don't speak Spanish, it doesn't mean you can't connect with your culture as an American Latino. There are many ways to learn more about where you came from, such as talking to your parents, grandparents, or distant relatives. You can also read books, attend events, and attend Latinx fairs and parades. 

Visit a museum or association for events 

Several museums hold Hispanic Heritage Month exhibits, depending on the year. The Smithsonian American Art Museum typically hosts a family day to celebrate Hispanic artists during Hispanic Heritage Month. If you can’t find a local event, you could organize one to celebrate a Hispanic artist you are inspired by. If you represent a group or non-profit, consider partnering with a local museum to hold your Hispanic heritage event.

You can also celebrate in the following ways: 

  • Read about Hispanic heritage at the National Archives website.

  • Watch the Latino Americans documentary by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

  • Find an event through your local Health and Human Services (HHS) chapter.

  • Research Hispanic American champions of history online or through history books at a local library.

  • See an exhibit in the Hispanic Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

  • Prepare lesson plans for your students about Hispanic Heritage.

Cook a cultural meal

Your family might already cook cultural meals daily. However, there could be a meal you haven't tried yet, and if you haven't explored much of your cultural food, September and October may be a time to try some. A few ideas could include: 

  • Enchiladas from Mexico

  • Baleadas from Honduras

  • Costa Rican ceviche 

  • Empanadas from Argentina

  • Salteñas from Bolivia 

  • Tacos or nachos from Mexico 

  • Arepas from Venezuela

  • Quinoa from Peru or Bolivia

  • Dominican cake 

  • Spanish sponge cake

  • Pastel de Choco from Chile

If you're Brazilian and feeling left out during Hispanic Heritage month, you can also try a Brazilian dish like pão de queijo or vatapá. 

Talk to your older relatives

Talking to those in your family who lived in your country of familial origin may help you learn more about their culture growing up. You could find out the holidays they celebrated, the type of house they lived in, and what they did for fun. If you enjoy history, consider writing down these stories, taking videos, or asking your relative to keep a journal about their childhood. In this way, you can pass down your Hispanic heritage to your family if you have children or plan to.  

You can also ask about how your family arrived in the US. Learning about Hispanic history and the often-challenging journeys people took to move somewhere new can be inspiring and remind you of the courage of your people. Knowing where your family came from, how they immigrated, and what they found most impactful about living in the US vs. their old home can teach you a lot about their values and what they sacrificed for you and others. If your relatives who moved to the US are no longer alive, consider asking your parents or grandparents about them, if possible. 

Visit your country of familial origin 

A trip to Latin American countries or Spain during Hispanic Heritage Month could teach you more about your culture and allow you to practice your Spanish in a new country. You could also meet distant relatives or their kids who still live in the country. Additionally, in much of South America, September and October are spring months, so you may appreciate the warm weather while the US starts to get cold. 

Several Latin American countries may have purer or more traditional cooking ingredients than the US, so you might also get to try traditional foods in a way that is as authentic as possible while meeting new people. Some Hispanic people may also have a claim to residency or citizenship. Read through the immigration laws for your country of familial origin to learn more. 

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Counseling options 

For those who struggle with Hispanic Heritage Month, feel disconnected from their culture, or struggle with family ties, know you're not alone. Over eight million Hispanic Americans and Latinos reported a mental health condition in 2020. In some communities, disparities in treatment occur due to ethnic or racism-based discrimination. 

If you face barriers to treatment in your area, consider online therapy. With online counseling, you can meet with a provider from home and choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with a licensed therapist. Additionally, one study found that 71% of participants preferred online methods to in-person counseling. If you're interested in getting started, you can sign up through a platform like BetterHelp and indicate whether you want a Spanish-speaking therapist. 

Takeaway

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic American Heritage Month. Hispanic Heritage Month drives awareness of Hispanic history, Hispanic American culture, the Spanish language, and the diversity of Hispanic culture overall. However, many Hispanic Americans are also experiencing mental health concerns and isolation from their communities. If you're one of these individuals, consider reaching out to a mental health provider at BetterHelp for further guidance and support.
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