In 1968, Congress voted into law a proclamation, designating the week including September 15 and 16 as "National Hispanic Heritage Week", and calling upon the people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies. In 1988, Congress passed an amendment changing "National Hispanic Heritage Week" to "National Hispanic Heritage Month." This celebration of Hispanic heritage begins on September 15 and ends on October 15. The following dates are of significant importance during the month. September 15th is Independence Day for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16th and 18th respectively. Also included in this month is el Dia la Raza, or the Hispanic celebration of Columbus Day on October 12th.
Forty-one million people in the United States claim Latino origin. Celebrating the culture, achievement and promise of the Latino people during this month is important, but shouldn't be limited to one month a year. Learning about Latino Americans year-round is important to truly understand the history and future of this country. For this reason, I suggest infusing this unit throughout the year instead of relying on a month-long focus. Our national family has greatly benefited from the cultural infusion of many Latino practices that include strong work ethic, an undying appreciation and commitment to family, sincere patriotism, and respect for others. Integrating cultures in the classroom helps develop "ethnic history" in all students. My students need to develop multi-ethnic literacy, which fosters pride in one's own culture and a respect and appreciation for the uniqueness of others. All children benefit from learning about all kinds of children. Another benefit to integrated learning experiences is facilitating stronger communication between school and home. This approach extends a greater welcome to the parents in my school community. This cannot be limited to confining cultural studies/literature into designated months of the year.
In the 1970s, the federal government coined the term Hispanic to group together a large and varied population. It refers to people who were born in any of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas. Some trace their roots from the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (Arawaks/Puerto Rico, Aztecs/Mexico, Incas/South America, Maya/Central America, Tainos/Cuba, Puerto Rico and other places), while others trace their roots from Spanish explorers who in the 1400s set out to find easier trade with the Indies. Still, others trace their roots to the Africans who were brought as slaves to the new world.
Most Latinos see themselves in terms of their individual ethnic identity, for example as Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, Cuban Americans, instead as members of the larger more ambiguous term Hispanic or Latino. The label Hispanic obscures the enormous diversity among people who come (or came) from two-dozen countries whose ancestry ranges from a mixture of Spanish blood with Native American, African, European to name a few. A common language binds most but many speak only English. Latinos often disagree on what they want to be called; most identify themselves by original nationality, while others prefer the term Latino. For this unit, I will use the nationality of origin or the term Latino to refer to these many ethnic groups most having some shared identity.