We celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month — observed from September 15 to October 15 — to recognize the culture, contribution, achievement, and influence of Americans whose ancestors came to this country from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America, and other places around the globe.
September 15 was chosen because it’s the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Additionally, the countries of Mexico and Chile celebrate Independence Day on September 16 and September 18, respectively.
The U.S. celebration started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. It was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15, a timeline that encompasses October 12, the traditional “Columbus Day.” The day is observed instead as Dia de la Raza (Race Day) in recognition of the mixed indigenous and European heritage of Mexico and because many object to paying homage to Columbus.
Public attention to those of Hispanic ethnicity has grown literally while the numbers have grown – and people of Latin American descent can no longer be relegated to the fringes of public and civic life.
In 2020, the U.S. Census showed that the Hispanic population had reached 62.1 million, up from 50 million in 2010, making Latinos the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. People of Latin American descent now comprise 18.5% of the nation’s total population. Like others, it is a diverse population group with diverse interests and diverse areas of shared importance: from the economy, to education, to immigration.
And, as a shared issue area, climate change figures prominently.
In the Mothers Out Front movement, steeped in science and facts, we know that the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication has illuminated how people who self-identify as Hispanic are also unequivocal in expressing concerns about climate change and environmental justice.
The 2017 Yale study, Climate Change in the Latino Mind found that the most likely U.S. population group to articulate concern about climate change is the Latino population. A clear majority of those surveyed believed that global warming is happening, that it is human caused, that they and their own communities have been personally affected by it, and that the future of the planet in general, and their children specifically, are threatened by it.
The study showed that three in four of those surveyed want corporations and industry, government leaders and elected officials to act. And a majority said they would get the attention of companies by not buying their products and get the attention of government leaders by not electing or re-electing them if they fail to do so.
Additionally, the study showed that while only 25 percent of non-Hispanic respondents said they would join an organization to create change on climate, more than 50 percent of Hispanic respondents answered in the affirmative.
As more environmental groups have expanded their outreach, the numbers of those involved in climate action has grown. Take the city of Pueblo, Colorado for example, where nearly 50 percent of the residents (as of the 2010 Census) self-identify as Hispanic or Latino of any race. Community organizer, Chicana indigenous woman, and candidate for U.S. Congress in Colorado’s Congressional District 3 — Sol Sandoval Tafoya – is deeply rooted here and has seen growth through civic engagement efforts in her community.
She has worked with the Colorado Trust, the NAACP Pueblo Branch and Mothers Out Front – organizations that she says have made important inroads in efforts to engage diverse leaders, particularly directly affected Latino residents.
There is power in this brand of solidarity, Sandoval Tafoya says – and in inclusion. She says progress on protecting air, land, and water has been made by ensuring that everyone affected is involved in solutions – an engagement strategy that works during Hispanic Heritage Month and every month.
Rosemary Lytle, Frontline Communications Consultant for Mothers Out Front, is a columnist who worked in newspaper journalism for nearly 20 years.