Every year, we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) from September 15 through October 15. During this time, we celebrate and learn about the contributions of the 60.5 million Americans who trace their ancestry to Spain and Latin America. This observation started back in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week, under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month and made it official with the approval of Public Law 100-402.
That timeframe was not selected randomly. September 15 is significant because five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua—celebrate the anniversary of their independence from Spain that day. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18, respectively. Furthermore, Columbus Day—or Día de la Raza [Day of the Race]—on October 12 falls in that 30-day period.
We know why we celebrate HHM and why that specific time was chosen. However, the Hispanic/Latino culture is wide and varied, drawing from more than a dozen countries, and formed from a variety of influences. With that comes a varying opinions and feelings on the significance of HHM.
We asked several Hispanic/Latino identifying folks here at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District what this observance means to them.
For some, HHM presents the opportunity to learn more about the myriad of unique cultures and nationalities encompassing the Hispanic/Latino heritage.
“When Hispanic Heritage Month was conceived in the late 80s, that’s when I got to know other Hispanic cultures,” said Tina Ybarra, a visual information specialist at USACE Galveston. Ybarra was born in Galveston and raised in a predominantly Mexican-American household: her mother being of Spanish ancestry and her father of Apache and Mexican descent. The idea that there were other Latin backgrounds in the world—or even in the United States—was a foreign concept in Ybarra’s home growing up, she said. Learning about HHM exposed her to other cultures within the Hispanic/Latino diaspora.
“I am proud to call myself Hispanic and to be included in such a diverse and multicultural group,” Ybarra said.
“Celebrating Hispanic Heritage is always a joy,” said Francisco Hamm, USACE Galveston’s deputy public affairs officer. “It’s a time to celebrate the diversities of all the Spanish-speaking countries with all their bright colors, amazing tastes, riveting musical sounds, and historic traditions,” Hamm said, mentioning his Puerto Rican and Spanish backgrounds.
For others—like Eduardo Irigoyen and Carol Carrasco—HHM is a way to educate future generations while honoring the ones that came before.
“I admire the culture and values I’ve inherited and take pride in being able to share them with my kids,” said Irigoyen, a project manager at USACE Galveston. “Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of who I am, a time to reflect the sacrifices my family made for me to have a better future.”
Carrasco’s grandparents migrated to West Texas from Chihuahua, Mexico. Besides enjoying the food and customs of her grandparents’ homeland, Carrasco feels it’s important to pass down the oral traditions of her Mexican inheritance as well.
“I tell my daughter stories of our heritage to pass on the pride of being Hispanic,” said Carrasco, a talent acquisition specialist at USACE Galveston. “Hispanic Heritage Month—for me—is a time to reflect and show my pride … in hopes for it to live on through many more generations in our family.”
With more than 450 million people across the globe identifying as Hispanic or Latino, it’s possible to have 450 million unique interpretations of what that means. There are so many things that bind these experiences together: a common language; shared history; religion; food; and music. Deeper still, there are common values found throughout all the different Hispanic/Latino experiences.
“Hispanic Heritage Month means the world to me,” said Elizabeth Williams, an administrative support assistant at USACE Galveston. “Hispanic heritage—to me—is about family, faith, pride, and love,” Williams said.
While the concept of family can be viewed as a universal tenet across all cultures, it holds special significance across Hispanic culture, said William Badillo Jr., an administrative support assistant at USACE Galveston.
Lastly, for many—including Badillo—HHM is an opportunity to observe and learn what the culture has brought to the collective table of the United States.
“[It] represents a time to reflect the many contributions that Hispanic-Americans made to our society,” said Badillo. “Being the son of Puerto Rican parents who both served in the Army, I take pride in their service and the countless others who have sacrificed for this country.”
“I have never forgotten my roots,” said Hamm, a first generation American and naturalized U.S. citizen. “But I have also embraced this country we call U.S.A—an even served her—so it’s also a time to reflect on all the great contributions and freedoms this adopted country has contributed to myself and my family.”