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The Importance of Hispanic Heritage Month

By Jenny Castro

Mexican man and woman dancing
Photo by Manu Carrillo

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures of the Latino community. With fall season now upon us, Latinos in the U.S. seek to celebrate the month, which officially takes place between September 15th through October 15th. Coinciding with Independence Day celebrations in countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Chile, many lively festivals and events will unfold during this time, commonly called “Fiestas Patrias” (Patriotic Holidays).

Initially introduced in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration in September of 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week, it was officially extended to a full month by President Reagan in 1988, following support from various U.S. senators. Since then, it has been celebrated nationally and raises awareness of Hispanic contributions in the United States. During this month, Latinos and Hispanics (terms that are interchangeable) in the U.S. will be celebrating their diverse cultures with pride. In the United States, various events such as educational seminars, parades, parties, and vibrant festivals will unfold. Most festivals will feature Latin American cuisine along with dancing, music, lowriders, and Charrería.

As a Mexican-American, Hispanic Heritage Month is highly significant to me as it symbolizes unity, love, and respect for one another. Personally, I love the sense of belonging and coming together. It is a time to celebrate what makes us unique and bond over cultural similarities and differences. It is a time to get together to enjoy our favorite foods, attend a local festival, and dive into our fascinating history as it pertains to our culture. It is a time to reflect on exactly what it means to be a Mexican-American and to appreciate our culture and heritage without feeling shamed or insecure in identifying as both. Celebrating my unique cultural identity helps me understand more about myself and where I come from. I think it’s important to connect, celebrate, and understand our roots as that is what makes our world so unique and defining. Not only do I get the opportunity to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day and my background as a Mexican-American, but I get to appreciate and celebrate other Latino cultures as well. This month signifies the importance of educating ourselves about diversity and learning about other cultures, traditions, and people in the process. Our country is a melting pot, and we must educate ourselves to understand other communities of people and to appreciate our diverse landscape. Throughout the month, festive events related to Hispanic Heritage will take place in the Seattle area and beyond including Sea Mar’s Fiestas Patrias Parade which was held Saturday, September 16th in the South Park neighborhood, and activities on September 17th at the Seattle Center which included food vendors, a health fair, and activities for children. The Washington State Fair also held an event on the 17th which included an all- day celebration featuring food, live performances, local radio dj’s, and mariachi’s along with Mexican folklore dance. In downtown Burien, a fiesta was held to commemorate Hispanic Heritage with music and dance performances, a talent show, beer garden, food, and inflatables and activities for children. Holy Family Catholic Church in the White Center neighborhood also held a celebration on September 24th featuring live mariachi’s, folklore dancing, and horses. Attending these activities have been my favorite way to celebrate, and something I look forward to every year. I love hearing the sounds of traditional Mexican music and seeing mariachi’s perform, and watching the caballeros with their horses. I also love to try different foods from other cultures, especially El Salvadoreon pupusas.

For those interested, the Seattle Latino Film Festival will also be held from October 6th - October 14th in various museums and theaters around the city. The festival will feature films and documentaries on topics relating to the Latino community with guest actors and directors in attendance. In attending events myself, I had the privilege of watching the annual Sea Mar Fiestas Patrias Parade in South Park. Many local organizations took part in the parade that advocate for Latino and Hispanic communities, including dance teams, Mexican Charrería, and volunteers and employees with Sea Mar Community Health Centers.

When it pertains to the importance of family in the Latino community, it is considered sacred. Most Latinos hold the utmost respect for their parents, grandparents, and elders. During Hispanic Heritage Month, family and cultural traditions take center stage, as food traditions such as tacos, tamales, pupusas, and aguas frescas signify celebration. Food is a language in itself and is highly important, incorporated into family gatherings and local community events. Those close to me also tend to participate during this month-long fiesta in ways such as attending various festivals, volunteering in parades or as a vendor, or participating as a guest speaker for a notable event. During this time, it’s an amazing way to reflect on ourselves, our society, and our world. Latino families love embracing their culture and finding ways to reconnect with their homelands or heritage. What I find to be the most fascinating part of the month-long celebration is the educational seminars and telling of stories of our past. As a history fanatic and lover, I get absolutely mesmerized by historical events and notable people that are highlighted during the month.

Many companies and organizations throughout the country also take time to shine a light on and recognize their Latino employees by holding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion discussions pertaining to Hispanic Heritage Month. The U.S. military also takes the opportunity to highlight their Latino military personnel and historical heroes. According to the U.S. Army, Latinos make up 17% of American soldiers, with 7% of those as Army civilians. Every year, the U.S. President from both parties typically speaks at notable events in support of the month-long celebration. This year, the President spoke at the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C., where he emphasized the importance of his policies as they relate to Hispanic communities. It should also be noted that Latinos also take time out to celebrate Día de los Muertos (widely celebrated by families of Mexican descent) a few short weeks later, from November 1st to November 2nd, a holiday commemorating the loss of loved ones.

As we have a few more weeks left until Hispanic Heritage concludes, let’s take time out to reflect and appreciate one another’s uniqueness and differences. With so many celebrations and cultural events to take part in, I encourage others to reflect on their cultural identities and take time out to acknowledge their customs, traditions, and backgrounds.


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