Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating the contributions of the largest minority in the US

If we know how to listen, every aspect of our national life can speak to the contributions of Hispanics in this country. From the media to the arts, from the business world to our history, Latinxs have not only been participants but also shapers of the U.S. fabric.

By Viviana López Green
Senior Director, Racial Equity Initiative, UnidosUS

Hispanic Heritage Month was initially observed as “Hispanic Heritage Week” under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Twenty years later, President Reagan extended the observance to a month. Today, when Latinos constitute nearly 19% of the country’s population, the weeks between September 15 and October 15 have turned into the opportunity, if not the duty, to intentionally expand our knowledge and understanding about the largest minority in the United States—in other words, to learn more about the makeup of our nation.

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It’s been said that Hispanic (or Latinx) heritage is U.S. heritage, and we wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Historical facts, a long list of significant contributions, and the service of hundreds of thousands of everyday heroes are a testament to the significance of the Latinx influence in this country. However, most people in the United States—including Hispanics —receive relatively little information about this community. In the next decade, three quarters of new labor market entrants will be Latinxs. The strong, talented, and hardworking spirit of the Latinx community must be acknowledged and celebrated in the United States.

Below you can find some resources to begin or to continue the journey of expanding what you know about Latinxs in the United States. Our hope is that one day, the diverse culture, rich history, and many contributions of the Latino community will be as ubiquitous and omnipresent in our national discourse as any other significant area of knowledge about the United States.

Places to Visit

¡Presente! Exhibit-Smithsonian National Museum of American History

If you are in Washington, D.C., you can’t miss ¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States, the very first dedicated and permanent exhibit on the National Mall to celebrate the U.S. Latino experience. In early 2021, UnidosUS partnered with Smithsonian as a content creator to highlight UnidosUS and 16 UnidosUS Affiliates to produce “community snapshots” in the Mapping the U.S. Experience digital media element in the Molina Family Latino Gallery. If you are not in the area, do not worry. You can take a virtual tour of the gallery and explore key themes through the site’s menu. The museum also offers great online educational resources, such as Our Journeys/Our Stories: Portraits of Latino Achievement and Nuestra América: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States.

National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Latinx (online collection)

The Latinx-related objects and archival collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture traverse racial identifications and national boundaries. This online portal is a guide to exploring the diversity of the museum’s Latinx-related holdings.

Podcasts

AFROSAYA: The Afro Latino Podcast

Alex Gutiérrez-Duncan lives in Sacramento, CA, and is a high school Spanish teacher. He independently produces a podcast that focuses on Afro-Latino issues, news, and culture, titled Afrosaya. Alex has worked with Black communities in Latin America for more than 12 years. The podcast is produced in English and in Spanish, and Gutiérrez-Duncan advocates for access to education, health, and justice for all. Occasionally, he is joined by guest speakers who share their personal stories and joy. His work is aimed towards the larger goal of inclusion of the Afro-Latino community, as he believes “visibility leads to representation and representation leads to inclusion.”

Latino USA

“The lived experiences of Latino communities and a look at the current and emerging cultural, political and social ideas impacting Latinos and the nation.”

Alt Latino (NPR)

“A spotlight on the world of Latinx arts and culture through music, stories and conversation.”

Radio Ambulante (NPR)

“An award-winning Spanish language podcast that uses long-form audio journalism to tell under-reported Latin American and Latino stories.”

LatinX On The Rise

“A podcast focusing on conversations with high-achieving Latinx movers and shakers.”

The Latin American History Podcast

The Latin American History Podcast “aims to tell the story of Spanish and Portuguese America from its very beginnings up until the present day.”

Tres Cuentos Literary Podcast

Considered in 2021 by Oprah magazine as one of “the best Spanish and Latino podcasts for learning—and laughing,” Tres Cuentos is a “bilingual literary podcast dedicated to Latin America’s narratives.”

La Brega: Stories of the Puerto Rican Experience

A seven-part podcast series that uses narrative storytelling and investigative journalism “to reflect and reveal how la brega has defined so many aspects of life in Puerto Rico.” Available in English and Spanish.

Tamarindo Podcast

“Tamarindo is a Latinx empowerment podcast discussing politics, culture, and how to keep your calm with well-being practices and self-love.”

Books

The Afro-Latin@Reader: History and Culture in the United States

The Afro-Latin@ Reader focuses attention on a large, vibrant, yet oddly invisible community in the United States: people of African descent from Latin America and the Caribbean.

You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation

“Bestselling author Julissa Arce calls for a celebration of our uniqueness, our origins, our heritage, and the beauty of the differences that make us Americans in this powerful polemic against the myth that assimilation leads to happiness and belonging for immigrants.”

Olga Dies Dreaming: A Novel

This New York Times bestseller by Xochitl Gonzalez was a highly anticipated novel in 2022. “A blazing talent debuts with the tale of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots―all in the wake of Hurricane Maria.”

Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity

“In this empowering cross-country travelogue, journalist and activist Paola Ramos embarks on a journey to find the communities of people defining the controversial term, ‘Latinx.’ […] Drawing on intensive field research as well as her own personal story, Ramos chronicles how “Latinx” has given rise to a sense of collectivity and solidarity among Latinos unseen in this country for decades. A vital and inspiring work of reportage, Finding Latinx calls on all of us to expand our understanding of what it means to be Latino and what it means to be American. The first step towards change, writes Ramos, is for us to recognize who we are.”

Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora

Bestselling and award-winning authors as well as up-and-coming voices interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora in 15 original pieces. Contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Cristina Arreola, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Naima Coster, Natasha Diaz, Saraciea J. Fennell, Kahlil Haywood, Zakiya Jamal, Janel Martinez, Jasminne Mendez, Meg Medina, Mark Oshiro, Julian Randall, Lilliam Rivera, and Ibi Zoboi.

Books for Young Readers

Inheritance

This “visual poem” by Dominican-American poet Elizabeth Acevedo tackles “the loaded and convoluted concepts of ‘pelo malo,’ colorism, and Afro-Latinidad. Illustrated by artist Andrea Pippin, the book “is intended to appeal to a wide range of women of any age including children.”

Coming Up Cuban: Rising Past Castro’s Shadow

Sonia Manzano, a 15-time Emmy Award winner examines the impact of the 1959 Cuban Revolution on four children. “In the wake of a new regime in Cuba, Ana, Miguel, Zulema, and Juan learn to find a place for themselves in a world forever changed. In a tumultuous moment of history, we see the lasting effects of a revolution in Havana, the countryside, Miami, and New York. Through these snapshot stories, we are reminded that regardless of any tumultuous times, we are all forever connected in our humanity.”

Nuestra America: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States

This fully illustrated anthology from the Smithsonian Latino Center highlights the inspiring stories of thirty Latina/o/xs throughout history and their contributions to the cultural, social, and political character of the United States. Nuestra América profiles notable figures such as Sylvia Acevedo, Luis Álvarez, Pura Belpré, Martha E. Bernal, Julia de Burgos, César Chávez, Sandra Cisneros, Roberto Clemente, Celia Cruz, Olga E. Custodio, and Óscar de la Renta, among others.

Videos, Papers, and Blogs

Toward a More Perfect Union: Understanding Systemic Racism and Resulting Inequity in Latino Communities

This UnidosUS’ paper offers a “primer,” the first of a series, detailing historical examples of systemic racism against Hispanics across selected areas and how this phenomenon persists and affects the well-being of Latinos today.

Plenary: Weaving the Latino Narrative in the American Story

This plenary session at 2022 UnidosUS Annual Conference shares critical findings from relevant research about the exclusion of Latinos from American media, history books, and policy solutions, as well as efforts to achieve greater representation for Latinos and elevate an essential voice currently missing from the racial equity public discourse in the largest multiracial democracy. Featuring Congressman Joaquin Castro, UCLA-LPPI Founding Executive Director Sonja Díaz, activist and writer Julissa Arce, and Lourdes Rosado, President & General Counsel, Latino Justice, PRLDEF.

3-Part Series: La Historia Uncovered Part II

A UnidosUS series of inspiring, thought-provoking conversations created and hosted by bestselling author Julissa Arce on the history of voting rights in Latino communities, the history of Latino erasure in U.S. history books, and the roots of immigration policy. Guests include Congressman Joaquin Castro and UC Berkeley Professor Ian Haney López.

PBS Latino Americans

Latino Americans is the first major documentary series for television to chronicle the rich and varied history and experiences of Latinos, who have helped shape North America over the last 500-plus years.

Hispanic Heritage on History.com

A wonderfully curated collection of articles and stories that explore the history of Latinos in the United States, including “The Mendez Family Fought School Segregation 8 Years Before Brown v. Board of Ed,” “Groundbreaking Inventions by Latino Innovators,” and “History Shorts: Dolores Huerta Organizes a Movement,” among many others.

Afro-Latinidad: The Celebration of a Multifaceted Identity

This year, UnidosUS showcased the ingenuity, varied perspectives, and contributions of Afro-Latinos to our country’s social fabric and culture through a list that compiles both known and up-and-coming names in Afro-Latino literature, poetry, dance, social theory, and more. From writers to social innovators, from performers to musicians, from cultural icons to scholars: La Afrolatinidad está presente!

UnidosUS “Voices”

Whether you call yourself Latino, Hispanic, Latinx, Latine, or by any other term, the contributions made by our community are as rich and varied as our personal stories. UnidosUS created a page called “Voices” to understand and explore our diverse identity, with the collaboration of ProgressReport.co (see Part I and Part II.) The result is a collection of videos profiling diverse Latinx voices explaining what makes them Hispanic or Latinx in their own unique way.

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