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From distinguished politicians driving social change to recognized STEM field innovators, Hispanics continue to make monumental contributions to the United States. With over 57 million U.S. American citizens of Latino or Hispanic heritage comprising 18 percent of the U.S. population, our country flourishes with rich cultural diversity.

With a month-long celebration, from September 15 through October 15, indulge in Hispanic heritage by appreciating the impact Hispanics and Latinos have made to our U.S. nation.

1. Origins of the National Holiday: As a way to acknowledge nationwide contributions from the Hispanic and Latino cultures, Congress initiated Hispanic Heritage Week in September 1968. However, it was expanded to an entire month twenty years later in 1988. One of the main reasons for the updated 4-week long celebration and why it begins in the middle rather than the start of September is because it coincides with various Latin American countries’ independence days. According to the Census Bureau, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala celebrate on September 15. Mexico’s independence day is September 16, followed by Chile on September 18, and Belize on September 21. What better way to commemorate the achievements of several Spanish-speaking countries while they celebrate their independence from Spain?

2. Understand the Difference Between Latino and Hispanic: While many use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably, there are striking differences between the two words. According to Harvard University, Hispanic implies Spanish ancestry; its literal meaning is “pertaining to ancient Spain.” In contrast, the term Latino encompasses those with indigenous and/or African roots. The word Latino is a construct of the U.S. Census Bureau when immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean didn’t identify with the Hispanic response category. Therefore, the options were expanded to include “Not Hispanic or Latino” and “Hispanic or Latino.” When a respondent checks the latter option, there is an opportunity to provide more specificity such as:

  • Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano
  • Puerto Rican
  • Cuban
  • Another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin

3. Spanish by the Numbers: The United States is home to millions of people from countries across the globe who speak several different native tongues. Spanish, however, is the most popular non-English language spoken in the U.S. with over 52.6 million Spanish speakers, surpassing the number in Spain! Currently, the world population of spanish speakers is 559 million or 6.7 percent. By 2050, the U.S. is predicted to have the highest Spanish-speaking population in the world with 132.8 million people. With the increasing popularity of the Spanish language, native and non-native speakers alike, can honor Hispanic Heritage Month by learning one new Spanish word a day.

4. Modern Day Hispanic Role Models & Athletes: Hispanic and Latino role models surround us, making crucial advances in their respective fields. To name a few, our modern day Hispanic and Latino role models are: Sonia Sotomayor – Supreme Court Justice, twins Joaquin and Julian Castro – American Politicians, 2016 Olympic gymnasts – Danell Leyva and Laurie Hernandez.

Historically, there have also been prominent Hispanic figures that have made an international impact. You can find their stories here.

This year, you may decide to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by joining Independence Day celebrations or perfecting your Spanish language proficiency. However you make an impact, continue to increase your knowledge of the many paramount contributions Hispanics make to the U.S. and remember to enjoy your favorite Latino dish too!

Sharon Schweitzer and Paola Guevara co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

Paola Guevara is the International Business Manager with Access to Culture. She’s lived in Mexico, France, and different states throughout the US, including California, Florida, and Texas. As a multilingual third-culture kid, Paola’s been exposed to different backgrounds and cultures in both academic and professional environments. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas with a major in International Business and a focus in French. Connect with her via LinkedIn.

Photo credit: Getty ImagesU. S. Air Force photo by Gary Cutrell