Hispanic Heritage Month: Why We Celebrate Without Losing Sight of the Work That Remains

Tomorrow marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the 30-day occasion recognizes the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Hispanics are the nation’s second-fastest-growing racial or ethnic group after Asian Americans: making up 18% of the U.S. population in 2019, up from 16% in 2010 and just 5% in 1970. All told, the U.S. Hispanic population reached 60.6 million in 2019, a gain of over 10 million from 50.7 million in 2010, according to data from The Pew Research Center.

In the three decades since Congress started observing Hispanic Heritage Month, the population has enjoyed marked progress and accomplishments: The share of U.S. Hispanics with college experience has increased since 2010. About 41% of U.S. Hispanic adults ages 25 and older had at least some college experience in 2018, up from 36% in 2010, per Pew Research Center data. And the share who have a bachelor’s degree or more education also increased during this period, from 13% to 17%.

What’s more, people of Hispanic descent can lay claim to building and shaping many aspects of American society: Sylvia Riviera, for example, a mixed-race Venezuelan-Puerto Rican trans woman, fought tirelessly for LGBT rights, helping lead the charge during the first night of the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969. She is often credited with putting the “T” in LGBT.

Born in Tepic, Nayarit, Luis Miramontes in 1951 co-invented the contraceptive pill, a breakthrough in the medical industry that would inform birth control as we know it today. Then there’s Guadalajara, México-born Guillermo González Camarena who invented an early color television transmission system that was used in NASA’s Voyager mission in 1979 to take pictures and video of Jupiter. Later, on April 8, 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman in the world to go into space.

The list of Hispanic-American contributions to culture, entertainment and fashion is also endless: Selena Quintanilla, Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and Carlos Santana are names that easily come to mind as artists whose music (and dance moves) are staples in American culture.

Nevertheless, amid heightened national conversation around racial equity spurred by the police killing of George Floyd, this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month can serve as an apt reminder of the importance of both celebrating the advancement of people of color across the United States — and around the world — as well as the need to forge ahead in finding effective solutions for the struggles that remain.

All month, FN will recognize Hispanic-American shoe designers and entrepreneurs making big waves in the fashion industry. But we would be remiss not to note that despite the many contributions Hispanic Americans have made to fashion, culture and a bevy of global industries, much like other minorities, this group faces a range of disparities, including a persistent gender pay gap.

For example, Equal Pay Day — which marks how far into the current year women in the United States have to work in order to earn what their white male counterparts earned the year prior — typically falls in April. That equates to women earning roughly 80 cents to a white man’s dollar. Broken down by women’s race, Black women’s Equal Pay Day falls in August and they earn about 62 cents to a man’s dollar. For Latina women, it’s 53 cents to a greenback, with their Equal Pay Day often falling in November, meaning they’re working close to two years to earn a white man’s annual income.

What’s worse, since 64% of mothers serve as the primary, sole or co-breadwinners of their families, according to data from the Center for American Progress, many are often stretching their incomes across entire households, a reality that disproportionately impacts Hispanic women.

According to research from the Office of Policy Development & Research and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, low-income people as well as racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by violent crimes. Meanwhile, factors such as viable job opportunities are associated with lower crime rates.

While those in power have a huge role to play in helping to narrow the gap among various racial and ethnic groups, many in the Hispanic community are at a disadvantage when it comes to representation in government: Latinos make up only 1% of all local and federal elected officials.

Those factoids are a sobering reminder that equality is not a destination to which we have arrived. This work is ongoing.

Join FN from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as we shine a light on the people and brands — whose roots are in the Hispanic community — you should know (and support) now. And, as we celebrate, FN encourages everyone to continue to explore the tangible and intangible ways we can all contribute to fostering equity for all.

Started in 1968 by Congress as Hispanic Heritage Week, the occasion was expanded to a month in 1988.

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