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Hispanic Heritage Month History in the United States

By Mariana De Maio

Each year, the United States honors the contributions that Latinos have made to our country with a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration that runs from September 15 to October 15. This annual celebration began 21 years ago, but its inception stretches back farther into our history. Congress first passed a resolution to celebrate Hispanic heritage at the national level as a weeklong event on September 17, 1968. Nearly 20 years later, on August 17, 1988, President Ronald Reagan stretched the celebrations to a month, from September 15 to October 15.

Hispanic Heritage Month Poster

Artwork by Guy Arceneaux/CRS

September 15 was chosen as this celebration's start date in order to coincide with the Independence Day celebrations of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile observe their independence on September 16 and September 18, respectively.

This commemorative month honors the influence and impact of Hispanics in all spheres of U.S. society, including science, art, politics, culture and the economy. Catholic Relief Services recognizes that more than 39 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic and is honored to join in celebrating and paying tribute to the diversity of cultures and accomplishments within the Latino community. The support of Latinos is crucial to our work as the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community.

Throughout the history of CRS, our agency has been intimately linked with Latin America. In fact, our very first project in 1943 began south of the U.S. border when Colonia Santa Rosa, in Guanajuato, Mexico, gave shelter to 709 Polish refugees that we helped place. This began a shared history that continues more than 65 years later. Then, as now, our mission was to assist the poor and suffering on the basis of need, without regard to creed, race or nationality.

Throughout the history of the United States, people have come from various parts of the globe and have contributed to build this nation where we live today. Commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month gives us an opportunity not only to feel proud of our roots, but also to educate those who are not Hispanic about the richness and diversity of the various Latin American cultures.

Some Interesting Statistics*

*U.S. Census Bureau statistics

Mariana De Maio is the Hispanic outreach multimedia editor and coordinator at Catholic Relief Services, based at our headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

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