Hi, my name is Dr. Bojórquez, and I confess that I love tacos. Why wouldn’t you love tacos? I love tacos because they are the perfect balance of protein, carbs, and vegetables. And, although I celebrate my Hispanic/ Latino heritage, this heritage is not why I love tacos. In fact, thinking about what it means to “be Hispanic” requires moving well beyond cultural tropes like “we all love tacos.”
The History of Hispanic Heritage Month
President Lyndon Johnson started Hispanic Heritage Week, later expanded by President Ronald Reagan to a month-long celebration (September 15 to October 15) in 1988; thus, Hispanic Heritage Month. During the 30-day celebration, the countries recognized for their contributions to Americans are Mexico, Central and South America, Spain, and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean (United States Census Bureau, 2023). We will explore the different definitions of Hispanic and Latino terms, cultural humility, and how to engage in the culture, and highlight some celebrations and fun facts about various Latino countries.
Is it Hispanic or Latino/x?
Throughout the United States (U.S.) history, the terms Hispanic and Latino/a/x/é have often been used interchangeably, resulting in a sense of panethnicity among individuals and communities. The term Hispanic was first implemented during the Nixon administration. The 2020 U.S. Census documented 63.7 million Hispanics, who make up about 19% of the U.S. population (United States Census Bureau, 2023). However, Hispanic has been highly criticized as it did not stem from a Spanish word, leading to a continuance of systemic disparities, including health, education, and incarceration (Garcia, 2020).
The term Latino has been more widely accepted, as it is derived from Latin, including Spanish-speaking countries. Latino was used as a gender-neutral term for Latinos and Latinas; however, around 2010, Latinx emerged to remove the male and female identity from the term and make it more inclusive. Interestingly, Bustamante et al. (2020) surveyed 3,030 Hispanic adults in the U.S. about the term Latinx. It reported that only three percent of participants use the term Latinx, 20% do not use the term, and 76% have yet to hear of the term Latinx.
Another factor in this conversation concerns the misconceptions that all Spanish speakers originate from Mexico. Although Mexicans form the largest Spanish speaking population in the U.S., there are many other Spanish speaking groups such as Salvadorans, Cubans, Dominicans, Guatemalans among others. It is essential to acknowledge the other Spanish speaking groups because language is part of the process for distinguishing Hispanic/Latino/a/x. Said another way, not all Latinos are Hispanic, and not all Hispanics are Latinos. Alexander (2022) shared that Brazilians are considered Latino but not Hispanic due to the Portuguese language, and Spaniards are Hispanic but not Latino because it is not a country in Latin America. Moreover, Latino was linked to geographical location and Hispanic to language. Thus, Mexicans would be considered Hispanic and Latino/x.
So, what term should we use? The honest answer is, “I don’t know.” It depends on where people are from and the language they speak. When unsure, I combine these two groups, so I say Hispanic/ Latino/x. Personally, I prefer Latina, Chicana, or Mexican-American (more terms, I know!). These identities are not monolithic and require we move beyond assumptions or what may “seem obvious.” This kind of movement is possible when we practice and apply cultural humility, to which I turn next.
We interact with people from various cultures and ethnicities daily and often make generalizations. Some assumptions include foods, traditions, or practices. By not acknowledging the differences, we also diminish their lived experiences. A personal story that serves as a testament is that my husband, born in Mexico, does not love tacos, beans, or tamarind. Yes, it shocked me, too!
My husband’s food preferences are a reminder that we have implicit biases. As people interact with people from various cultures daily, raising cultural humility and awareness is essential. Cultural humility is “… a lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and critique, to redressing the power imbalances . . .” (Abe, 2019, as cited in Tervalon & Murray-García, 1998, p. 123). Learning about the Hispanic and Latino cultures can start by immersing yourself in the culture, attending cultural events, and learning the history of lived experiences of these communities.
Further, increasing cultural humility can be done via social work practice and research. In social work, we are responsible for using cultural competence and humility to improve providers’ knowledge and skills while building appropriate relationships with those we serve. In research, there is an understanding that becomes central to the delivery of all-inclusive care for those we serve. Also, it allows providers to fill in the gaps between the needs and services of clients and communities from various cultures, ethnicities, practices, and customs.
In the spirit of this learning for the development of cultural humility, I’ve provided a list of celebrations and fun facts for different countries below.
Have you ever participated in any of these events or is there one that you would add to the list? Leave a comment below!
Celebrations and Fun Facts
- Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day; it commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862, where Mexico won against the French. Mexican Independence Day celebration begins on September 15 with El Grito de Dolores (The Cry of Dolores) and is observed on September 16, 2023.
- Most popular celebrations: Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Semana Santa y Pascua (Holy Week and Easter)
- Popular dishes: Tacos, Menudo (tripe stew), Pozole (Mexican soup from Aztecs), and Mole (chicken with curry-type sauce).
El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
- Independence Day is celebrated on September 15, which starts Hispanic Heritage Month
- Most popular celebrations:
- El Salvador – Fiestas Agostinas (festival)
- Costa Rica – Día de Las Mascaradas (National Day of the Masquerades)
- Guatemala – Día de Los Santos (All Saints Day)
- Honduras – Feria de San Isidro (festival)
- Nicaragua – Diriamba (festival combining indigenous and Spanish roots)
- Popular dishes:
- El Salvador – pupusas (corn dough filled with meat, cheese, and/ or vegetables)
- Costa Rica – chifrijo (fired pork with red beans)
- Guatemala – Kak’ik (turkey leg in broth)
- Honduras – baleadas (tortilla with mashed red beans, cheese and sour cream
- Nicaragua – Nacatamal (corn dough with pork, potato, rice, tomato, garlic, and chiltoma).
Books to Explore
- El Viaje de Los Colibries by Sue Zurita
- The Faraway World by Patricia Engel
- I am Joaquin/ Yo Soy Joaquin: An Epic by Rodolfo Gonzalez
- Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (children’s book)
- Where are you from? By Yamile Saied Mendez (children’s book)
- Islandborn by Junot Diaz (children’s book)
Abe, J. (2019). Beyond cultural competence, toward social transformation: Liberation psychologies and the practice of cultural humility. Journal of Social Work Education, 56(4), 696–707. https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2019.1661911
Alexander, W. (2022, September 8). Ask the OEDI: Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Latinx – which is best? Duke University School of Medicine. https://medschool.duke.edu/blog/ask-oedi-hispanic-latino-latina-latinx-which-best#:~:text=According%20to%20these%20definitions%2C%20a,Hispanic%20(but%20not%20Latino).
Bustamante, L.-N., Mora, L., & Lopez, M. H. (2020, August 11). About one-in-four U.S. Hispanics have heard of Latinx, but just 3% use it. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2020/08/11/about-one-in-four-u-s-hispanics-have-heard-of-latinx-but-just-3-use-it/
García, I. (2020). Cultural insights for planners: Understanding the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx. Journal of the American Planning Association, 86(4), 393–402. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2020.1758191
Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. (n.d.). National Hispanic Heritage Month: September 15 to October 15. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from https://dmh.lacounty.gov/blog/2021/09/national-hispanic-heritage-month/#:~:text=The%20day%20of%20September%2015,16%20and%20September%2018%2C%20respectively.
United States Census Bureau. (2023, August 17). Hispanic Heritage Month: 2023. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2023/hispanic-heritage-month.html#:~:text=63.7%20million,19.1%25%20of%20the%20total%20population