Sept. 15 marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, which spans until Oct. 15. This month celebrates the diversity of Hispanic countries, famous people with Hispanic heritage, the culture of Hispanic countries, along with anyone who considers themselves Latino/a or Hispanic.
Hispanic Heritage Month begins on Sept. 15 because it is a unique day for many Latin American countries. Five countries celebrate their independence days on this day.
Hispanic Heritage Month focuses on educating people about Hispanic and Latino/a culture and diversity. But what does it mean to be Hispanic? Or rather, what does it mean to be Latino/a?
The United States Census Bureau states the terms Hispanic and Latino can be used interchangeably. They represent any people that consider themselves, “Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” But there are some things definitions cannot tell you about the meaning of being Hispanic or Latino/a.
Being Hispanic or Latino/a also means being a part of a vibrant, beautiful culture that values family, humility, education and hard work, above all else.
As a Hispanic/Latina myself, I can attest to this. Although I grew up for most of my life in America, I grew up with a Latina mother born in the small country of Panamá located in Central America. Even though I have an American father, many of the values I learned were based on my mother’s culture.
The first: family. As a Hispanic, the most important lesson you learn growing up is the value of family. You are taught that nothing else is more important. When your family needs you, be there. In return, they will be there for you when no one else will. Even though you may not get along with your siblings sometimes, love them anyways. Even though your parents can be overprotective at times, it is only because they love you.
The next is humility. The trait of being humble. For most of us that grow up in Hispanic households, we do not have much. And that is why we are always taught to cherish the things we do have. Our parents tell us that instead of wishing for things we do not have, to be thankful for what we do. Because despite our hardships, there are many others who have less than us.
This is something that was taught to me since I was a small child.
Next is the value of education. Growing up, I can remember the words my mother would repeat to me every day: “La educación es la mejor herencia que le pueden dar los padres a sus hijos.” Education is the most important thing parents can pass down to their children.
Growing up in my household, the importance of education was something instilled in me since the moment I knew what it meant. My mother taught me that knowledge and learning, getting a good education was one of the best ways to be successful in life. And with education you could accomplish wonders. It was for this very reason I worked so hard to get where I am today.
This brings us to the last value, and in my opinion, one of the most important. Hard work and dedication.
Many Hispanic families growing up in their native countries, struggle to find opportunities that those of us living in the United States often take for granted. According to the Congressional Research Service, they come to the U.S. seeking “economic opportunities” or “refuge from violence.”
Many of us also come to the U.S. hoping to achieve the American Dream.
That hope that is taught to us, though, comes also knowing that we cannot achieve those dreams without hard work. As a Hispanic, you are taught to work hard, never give up and keep dreaming for what you want. That if you give it your all, there is nothing you cannot achieve. No dream you cannot attain. This is something that I truly believe.
If you take all these values and put them together, I truly believe that you can be an unstoppable force. And I believe that is what it means to be Latino/a. To love your family, be humble and work hard for everything you want in your life. If you continue to do those things, you will be exactly where you want to be.
To all those celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month during these next few weeks, remember to be proud of who you are and where you come from. And never forget it.