Hispanic Heritage Month


For the past 52 years, National Hispanic Heritage month has honored the contributions and cultures of Americans with roots in Latin America. 

Although the event originated as a week-long commemoration, it was expanded to a month-long observation in 1988, lasting from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, with several significant dates in Hispanic and Latino History included within its span. 

While learning about Hispanic traditions and culture is a major goal of this annual event, what’s of equivalent concern is the recognition of Hispanic and Latino figures who have helped shape the country. Names like Selena Quintanilla, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cesar Chavez are often acknowledged by mainstream media for their contributions; however, this month allows for further literacy on Hispanic and Latino heroes whose names and faces may be less recognizable. 

When it comes to the Stonewall Riots and leaders in the fight for gay rights, an important but lesser-known trailblazer is Sylvia Rivera. A Latina, transgender activist, she fought, not only for the queer community, but ethnic and racial minorities, not to mention, Americans without housing. Without Rivera and other LGBTQ+ members and allies, queer rights may have continued to be just a dream for gay Americans. 

 Also assisting in the fight against the suppression of minorities in the U.S. was Sylvia Mendez. During the era in which the landmark decision of Brown v. The Board of Education ended segregated education, Mendez served as an unsung hero. In 1947, her family successfully sued in the Mendez v. Westminster case, which led to the desegregation of public schools in California. Although she was only in third grade at the time, Mendez helped pave the way for desegregation in education by becoming the first Mexican-American to attend an all-white school in her state. 

Another important figure from the Jim Crow era is Roberto Clemente, who, aside from being one of the first Latin-American baseball stars in the U.S., was an activist for racial injustice. Clemente was known for speaking out against the segregation he faced as an Afro-Latino American and was an admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work; he even met with King to discuss the oppression of Black Americans and how it affected his personal experiences as a Black pro-athlete. Taking advantage of his platform, Clemente also hosted free baseball clinics for underprivileged youth.  

Also using his position to highlight issues within the Hispanic and Latino community was journalist Ruben Salazar. Salazar, who wrote for The Los Angeles Times, was one of the first Mexican-American reporters in mainstream media. Throughout his career, Salazar focused on the injustices presented to the Chicano community, which, in turn, helped amplify the Chicano movement by providing them with a mainstream platform. Salazar is remembered as a martyr for the Chicago people after being killed by police during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War.