Hispanic Heritage Week was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 and was extended to a full month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Observances honor the heritage of one of the largest cultural groups in the United States. Hispanic Heritage Month is often observed in school classrooms and public libraries, along with other organizations and businesses. The celebration lasts from September 15 to October 15 and covers several milestones in Spanish-American history.

Who is Hispanic?

Defining exactly who is considered Hispanic is foundational to a discussion for Hispanic Heritage Month. The term “Hispanic” applies to a descendant of any Spanish-speaking country or Spanish-speaking area of the United States. “Hispanic” is not a race, and includes people from various indigenous groups, as well as those of African and Spanish heritage. Being Caucasian or having black skin does not exclude a person from being Hispanic. With such wide-spread roots, Hispanics as a whole offer a very diverse history.

Spanish Cognates

Another discussion option for Hispanic Heritage Month may be to observe the number of Spanish cognates used in the English language. A cognate is a word that sounds similar in both languages. Some examples of common cognates include “dance” and “danza,” “liberty” and “libertad,” and “tiger” and “tigre.” Some words are spelled the same in English but are pronounced differently, such as “chocolate,” “radio” and “solar.”

Musical Influence

The Hispanic culture influences and permeates the music scene around the world. Hispanic Heritage Month offers the opportunity to discover up-and-coming and established Hispanic artists on the radio and Internet. A deeper look into music can show the Hispanic influence on other styles of music through the years, such as the presence of conga players in big-band music and the addition of a “Spanish tinge” to the rhythm and blues tunes from the 1950s.

Historical Overview

An important consideration when talking about Hispanic Heritage Month is “Where did all of the Hispanic people come from?” While school textbooks traditionally proclaim that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World on a trip funded by Queen Isabella in 1492, the fact that indigenous peoples were already living and thriving there is often omitted. When more Spaniards arrived on the newly discovered land over the following years, they brought their language and culture with them. The Spanish controlled most of Central and South America during the 1500s, beginning the expansion of the Hispanic culture.