National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15–October 15, honors the culture, traditions and extraordinary contributions of Americans who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S. — 54 million strong today and a projected 128.8 million by 2060 — a figure that would represent nearly 1 in 3 Americans. Over two-thirds of today’s Hispanic Americans are of Mexican background. Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban and Dominican backgrounds also are well-represented.
Their contributions in every walk of life continue to enrich American culture, society, government and life:
- 37 Hispanic Americans currently serve in Congress (34 in the House, three in the Senate), four in the Cabinet, and one, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, on the Supreme Court.
- Juan Felipe Herrera is the nation’s poet laureate, and many of America’s favorite celebrities are also of Hispanic heritage.
- Astronaut Ellen Ochoa flew on the shuttle Discovery in 1993, becoming the first Hispanic woman in space. Today she heads NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
- Labor leader Cesar Chavez inspired civil rights and grass-roots activists through his efforts to improve farmworkers’ rights in the 1960s and 1970s. Championing nonviolent resistance, Chavez advanced his causes through boycotts, marches and hunger strikes.
- Before she was known to fans simply as JLo, Jennifer Lopez was an anonymous background dancer on a comedy show. She has achieved international fame as an actress, author, fashion designer, dancer, producer and singer. In 2001 she became the first female entertainer to top both the movie and album charts in the same week.
A number of U.S. government agencies plan special Hispanic Heritage Month events and projects:
- As part of an oral history of America, the U.S. Library of Congress has launched StoryCorps Historias to record the diverse stories and life experiences of Latinos in the United States. Its Veterans History Project site features pages devoted to Hispanics who have experienced war.
- The Smithsonian Institution’s Latino Center develops Latino-themed programs and exhibits for national and international audiences. The center is also documenting the Smithsonian’s extensive collection of Latin-American objects.
President Obama said it well in 2014: “Hispanics represent a vibrant and thriving part of our diverse Nation. Their histories and cultures stretch across centuries, and the contributions of those who come to our shores today in search of their dreams continue to add new chapters in our national story.”