Today marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, an observance that started in 1968 as a week-long celebration under President Lyndon B. Johnson, which then was expanded in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan to cover a 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 and ending Oct. 15.
For those of you who weren’t already aware, I am Dominican-American.
My parents immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the late 70’s. They met and were married in 1982, had my older brother and then me, 21 years ago.
I have been immersed in Latin American culture since I was a baby, learning Spanish as my first language, dancing merengue as soon as I could walk, being raised on traditional Dominican dishes and hearing my
parents talk about life on their native island in the Caribbean.
Like many of the young Latinos I know, I have always been proud to say I grew up surrounded by a culture that is rich in tradition, history and arts.
I’m sure that’s why Southern’s Organization of Latin American Students takes the time every October to host a formal ball, called Noche de Gala, to give the campus community a peek at our culture, with food, music and slideshows of the countries and notable people who make up Latin America.
The organization then takes it a step further by using the proceeds from ticket sales to give two deserving
Latinos $500 scholarships to Southern, giving the next group of Latin American students a better chance at success.
Many of us brag about mastering traditional dances and dishes, but when it comes to knowing the history of the 20 nations that make up Latin America, many of us fall short.
I am not saying I will be teaching Latin American history next semester.
To be honest, before I became a Spanish major I couldn’t have told you one revolution from another.
Even still, to write this article, I needed a bit of help from a friendly professor in the Spanish department, the
Internet and my favorite Spanish encyclopedia.
The beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the Sept. 15 independence of Latin American countries, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18 respectively.
Also, Columbus Day, known as Día de la Hispanidad or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12 falls within this 30-day period.
This year, some Latin American countries celebrate 200 years of independence from Spanish rule, including Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.
Other countries such as Ecuador and Bolivia celebrated their bicentennials last year, while El Salvador and Paraguay will celebrate next year.
The independence movements of other Latin American countries did not arise until the end of the 19th century.
The Dominican Republic, for instance, celebrated its 166th anniversary as an independent nation on Feb. 27 of this year.
Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, was granted autonomy and developed its first government in 1897, however, the island observes U.S. holidays including July 4, American Independence
Cuba celebrates a different holiday, Liberation Day, on Jan. 1, 1959, although it gained its Independence from Spain after a 10-year war in 1898.
The first of the Latin American countries to win their independence did so during a time of instability in Spain, after the French Conquest by Napoleon in 1808, in which the Spanish king was imprisoned.
Soon movements within the Spanish territories began. Initially these movements were not wars for independence, but assertions of local control in the name of the deposed Spanish king.
Shortly thereafter, the territories began fighting for their own liberation, led historically by heroes, Miguel Hidalgo in Mexico and Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin and Bernardo O’ Higgins in South America.
With that brief summary of its independence, I know I only scratched the surface of a far more extensive and complex history of Latin America.
From burritos in the Student Center to the appointment of the first Latina on the Supreme Court, we truly have victories to celebrate everyday.
I hope within this month, all of us take time to learn more about the culture we are so proud to be a part of and recognize how far we’ve come since the beginning of the first independence movements over 200 years ago.