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The History of Hispanic Heritage Month, and What It Means for Tomorrow

Hispanic woman with Bryant & Stratton hispanic heritage month speech bubble next to her

Since 1988, the United States has celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, paying tribute to a key part of our nation. Hispanic Americans have contributed to the colorful tapestry that is the United States in too many ways to count, and this month offers us the space to celebrate those contributions. At Bryant & Stratton College, we celebrate all the contributions of Hispanic Americans, as well as the contributions our growing number of Hispanic American students provide to our community every day.       

But how did it start?

Hispanic Heritage Month started as a week in 1968 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Hispanic Heritage Week bill into law. The week was designed to celebrate the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans and their contributions to society. Groups and organizations, including the Hispanic Caucus in the U.S. Congress, also saw it as the perfect moment to bring attention to legal issues and campaigns that concerned Hispanic Americans. Eventually, California Representative Esteban Torres submitted a bill that would expand the week to a month. Signed into law under President Reagan in 1988, Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 through October 15— a significant period of time, as the Independence Days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile all fall within this month. 

As a term, “Hispanic” remains a complicated one. Born out of necessity in the ’70s as a means to capture this specific group of Americans in the census, Hispanic is a broad term that encompasses a large group across the diaspora (and Spain) with many not always feeling represented by it. In the years since its implementation, however, more precise and inclusive terms have arisen, such as “Latino” and its more gender-inclusive progenies, “Latinx” and “Latine,” as well as “Afro-Latinx” to be more inclusive of those with African lineage. Now, it’s not uncommon for people to default to “Hispanic.” While the language continues to evolve and advance to fully encompass the breadth, scope, and diversity of what it means to be Latin American, the goal of Hispanic Heritage Month has remained the same since the beginning: to celebrate those of Hispanic heritage — across all races and genders — as well as their contributions to our society. 

It should be no surprise to anyone that Hispanic Americans have provided so much to American culture. From EGOT-winner Rita Moreno to gay and trans civil rights icon Sylvia Rivera to baseball legend Roberto Clemente — our food, sports, arts, and politics have been shaped by Hispanic Americans from all across the diaspora. Often, these contributions and efforts have been shrouded or minimized if not outright marginalized from the broader picture of American history. But we want to change that. And that’s why this month we’re taking the time to honor our own students and faculty, so they know they are just as much a part of our community as any other. 

Of her experience, Kellie Heston, an administrative assistant at Bryant & Stratton and former student says, “Coming from a background where my family emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico for a better life for their children and future grandchildren, it is very important to me to be able to play a small role in helping others who have found themselves in a situation similar to what my family found themselves in many years ago. I am very proud to work for a college that has the same beliefs I do when it comes to helping their students achieve the best they possibly can.” 

At Bryant & Stratton College, our students know that they’ll be supported. And not just by staff, but also by other students who get it. After immigrating to the U.S. to attend school, Jose Cazorla, a member of the baseball team and business student, says that what made his transition to a new country and culture smoother was the help of his teammate: “The father of one of my teammates  is actually from Panama, and he helped me out a lot with so much stuff. He was kind enough to be my translator, because he knew Spanish.” 

This sort of environment is possible because at Bryant & Stratton College, we see that all our students are more than just students. All students come in with their own stories that inform their experiences on and off campus. And for our Hispanic students, that’s especially important to acknowledge, given their history of marginalization in this country. However, things are changing for the better. At a population of 59 million, Hispanic Americans are the fastest- growing population in the nation — currently 18.5% of the general population and slated to rise to 30% by 2050 — and more than ever, they are pursuing higher education. While Hispanic Americans continue to claim space for themselves, Bryant & Stratton is thrilled to help further along their stories, experiences, and expertise — all the things that enrich our students’ education and make our college a better place for all.

Bryant & Stratton has worked to empower our students and faculties by creating an inclusive space for them to thrive and share their stories. We’re proud to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, and we’re working hard every day to be an ever more inclusive space for Hispanic students as they keep blazing trails in their own lives and in American society.

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