I’d like to begin by explaining
that the categorization of Hispanic is not based on
race. It is based on regional locations where Spanish
is usually the prominent language spoken. As such,
Hispanics have been comprised of Jews, Arabs, Blacks,
Asians, Whites, and mixtures of any of these just
mentioned which have been referred to as mestizos.
Thus, it should be noted that persons of Hispanic
origin may be of any race.
In order to recognize the accomplishments of Hispanic-Americans,
the U.S. government created Public Law 90-498 which
established National Hispanic Heritage Week on September
17, 1968. This was then amended by Public Law 100-402
on August 17, 1988, which expanded the week into a
month long celebration. But unlike most other ethnic
heritage months, Hispanic Heritage Month commences
in the middle of the month of September and concludes
in the middle of the month of October. What is the
reason for such an unusual mid-month time frame?
The week in the middle of September was originally
selected because several Latin American countries
celebrate their independence day on September 15,
including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras,
and Nicaragua. Mexico also celebrated its independence
on September 16, along with Chile who celebrates it
on September 18. The week was then expanded to a month
in order to celebrate “el Dia de la Raza”
on October 11 in conjunction with Columbus Day.
The term Latino or Hispanic does not represent a unified
ethnic or cultural population. While the Hispanic
population in the United States consists of three
major groups – Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and
Cubans – it also incorporates immigrants from
Central America, South America, and the Dominican
Republic who have arrived in noticeable numbers over
the past thirty years. However, it is the three major
groups that had already established Hispanic communities
as other Hispanic immigrant groups continued coming
to America. Therefore, I will briefly address how
these three core populations came to be the major
Hispanic groups in the United States.
By 1602, a handful of Spaniards had already explored
most of the southwest border-lands of the United States.
In time, Spanish settlements were established in what
were formerly the Mexican territories of New Mexico,
California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. By 1790,
the population of the Southwest was almost entirely
As incoming whites settled these lands, they incorporated
many Spanish and Native American words into their
own English vocabulary. They also adopted Spanish
styles of architecture found at the time in the Southwest.
Between the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 and the
Gadsen Purchase of 1853, the United States came to
acquire significant territories of the Southwest.
Additionally, a significant event in Mexican American
history was the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848,
which concluded the war between the United States
and Mexico. In addition to annexing substantial portions
of Mexican land areas, this treaty, among other basic
rights, guaranteed all Mexicans living in the “new”
American territory full American citizenship. Today,
Mexican Americans comprised the largest population
of Hispanics in America.
Next; the forces that created the minority population
of Puerto Ricans stand in marked contrast to those
that forged the Mexican American community. Puerto
Rico first became a possession of the United States
in 1898, when it was annexed from Spain, along with
Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines. Puerto Ricans then
became U.S. citizens under the Jones Act of 1917,
which also allowed Puerto Ricans free access to the
U.S. mainland, long before the island became a commonwealth
in 1952. By the 1940s, 70,000 Puerto Ricans had settled
on the mainland, but during the 1950s, almost 20 percent
of the island’s population migrated to the United
States. By 1970, over 800,000 Puerto Ricans were living
on the U.S. mainland, 57 percent of whom were actually
born in Puerto Rico. In 1993, the Puerto Rican population
on the U.S. mainland was estimated at close to two
and a half million people.
As for Cuban Americans, less than 50,000 lived in
the United States before Fidel Castro overthrew the
regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. This revolution
led to an exodus of Cubans seeking political asylum
during the 1960s. By 1970, over a half million Cubans
resided in the United States, and by the end of the
1970s, Cuban American communities were firmly established
in south Florida. Although the Cuban population grew
to slightly over one million persons by 1993, it is
the smallest segment of the Latino population as compared
to Mexican American and Puerto Rican segments. Its
relatively small size and concentration in Florida,
especially in Miami, has created a Cuban American
ethnic enclave with an economic base in small business.
The consolidation of formerly Spanish territories
as part of the United States, coupled with subsequent
patterns of immigration and settlement from formerly
Spanish-controlled areas, has created a highly dynamic
and fluid situation in which the Hispanic population
will soon be America’s largest minority. Most
of this large Hispanic minority will be of Mexican
origin, with significant numbers of Puerto Ricans,
Cubans, and both Central and South Americans, along
with a more recent growing population of Dominicans.
According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, by the
year 2050 Hispanics will become the largest minority
in the U.S. at 24 percent of the minority population.
There is no question that the achievements and contributions
of Hispanics over the centuries have been well documented.
Hispanics have certainly excelled in the fields of:
· entertainment, and
· the Arts
They have also been influential and have impacted
such fields as science, technology, invention, and
politics. Today the younger generations can look to
its role models, its heroes and its sheroes. Nevertheless,
in the years to come as we head into the future with
our numbers growing, it becomes of even greater importance
that we provide the leadership to meet the challenges
that the future will present.
As such, it is our responsibility to be informed and
as knowledgeable as we can possibly be. Thus, it is
crucial that we overcome a huge area in which we are
currently lacking as a people. It is significantly
important that we place our greatest effort and priority
in education, education, and education.