It’s Hispanic Heritage Month! Finally a time to celebrate the many rich and diverse Hispanic cultures of the world and increasingly of our nation. Despite our growing numbers however Americans still don’t know very much about Hispanics. Sure they love margaritas and are frequent customers of Taco Bell but that’s the extent of their Hispanic association. There are still many misconceptions in place and at this point most people are afraid to ask for clarification.
So I’ve put together a list of 10 common questions Americans have about Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanics in general to help set the record straight.
1. Why does it technically span two months?
September 15th marks the independence of several Latin American countries including Costa Rica El Salvador Guatemala Honduras and Nicaragua. Also Mexico celebrates independence on September 16th Chile on September 18th and Columbus Day is on October 12th. Thus when Ronald Reagan chose to expand the nationally recognized observation in 1988 he chose the 30-day period from September 15th to October 15th. The celebration was initially only a week long and instituted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.
2. I heard Hispanics are the largest minority in the U.S. Is that true?
It is very true though we are no longer the fastest-growing minority in the US (that title recently went to Asians). The US Census reports that as of July 1 2013 there are 54 million Hispanics living in the U.S. making up 17 percent of the population. The second largest minority group is African Americans with an estimated 40 million people constituting 13 percent of the population.
3. What’s the difference between Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish?
Hispanic is a term used to describe people originating from Spanish-speaking nations. There are over 20 Spanish-speaking countries in the world. Latino or Latina is a term used to refer to those of a Latin American background. While the terms are often used interchangeably they don’t always both apply to the same person. Someone born in Brazil for instance would be considered to be Latino/a but not Hispanic since Portuguese not Spanish is Brazil’s official language. Finally Spanish is a term used to refer to an ethnic group native to Spain. It is not an umbrella classification for all of the above.
4. Are all Hispanics immigrants?
I’d like to start by saying that having been born in Puerto Rico a territory of the United States I’ve been a citizen all my life. Nevertheless with regard to those originating from one of the many other Spanish-speaking nations it’s important to note that Hispanic culture predates any British involvement with America. Spanish explorers settled in California Mexican states Florida and the Southwest long before the English colonized Jamestown in 1607 and certainly long before the Pilgrims arrived in 1621. If you recall Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Moreover as of 2012 only 35.5 percent of Hispanics living in the US were foreign born. That means that roughly 2 out of 3 Hispanics like me are natural-born Americans.
5. Are all Hispanics Mexicans?
As of 2012 64 percent of Hispanics in the US were of Mexican background. The second largest group was Puerto Ricans with 9.4 percent. While it appears that Mexicans are set to remain the predominant Hispanic group in our nation for some time I would caution against assuming that all Hispanics are Mexican since we come from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds and all look drastically different. If her last name wasn’t Diaz for instance you’d have never known Cameron had Cuban roots.
6. How have Hispanics contributed to American society?
There’s no question that Hispanic culture has become increasingly prevalent in American society over the last two decades with the infusion of Latin beats and flavors in our daily activities. While many people often stereotype Hispanics as laborers or cleaning staff the US Census reports 19.5% of Hispanics and Latinos 16 or older actually worked in management business science and arts occupations. Not to mention 1.2 million Hispanics or Latinos 18 or older are veterans of the US armed forces.
7. Why don’t Hispanics speak English if they’re in America?
It takes a lot of skill to speak multiple languages. As a society we’re lacking in fostering those skills amongst our youth especially when compared to the rest of the world. In my Model U.N. Days most international competitors spoke an average of 5 languages. The only reason we’re not completely monolingual as a nation is by the saving grace of our immigrants who take it upon themselves to speak not one but two languages. In 2012 44% of the foreign-born population age 5 and older who arrived in the US in 2000 or later reported high English-language speaking ability. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the nation even among non-native households with a record 38.3 million people reported to speak Spanish as the primary language at home in 2012. The question really should be why don’t more Americans speak Spanish at the very least?
8. Should Americans be concerned about Hispanics taking their jobs?
There were 3.2 million Hispanic owned businesses in the US in 2013 generating over $450 billion in receipts. Latino businesses grew on average at a rate of over 7 percent annually between 2007 and 2013 more than double the national average of 3 percent. Hispanics like other citizens build our national economy by contributing to it and providing small business revenues and taxes. Hispanics aren’t taking American jobs because 1) Hispanics are Americans and 2) Hispanics are actually creating new jobs through the launch of new businesses.
9. All Hispanics are democrats, right?
This is not always the case. While it’s true that a large portion of Hispanics often vote as Democrats there are certain populations including the Cuban American and Venezuelan population that remain traditionally Republican. Not to mention there is a budding young professional population myself included that is disappointed by both parties’ lack of decisive action on issues that matter to the Hispanic community.
10. How should people celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
Take the time to learn more. Get to know the histories cultures and contributions of Hispanics in the US and don’t be afraid to ask about things you don’t understand. When it comes to fostering cultural acceptance and awareness there is no such thing as a dumb question.