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Juan Cruz-Barrios

Company editor and mentor.

Oct 5, 2004


Hispanic American Heritage

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 Spanish-speaking.

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:
· Medicine,
· military,
· athletics,
· 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.