Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month
by Maggie Lynch
September 13, 2022
Did you know there is an entire month for National Hispanic Heritage celebrations in the U.S.? It was first proclaimed as a day of celebration by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Then in 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a week. The next year, in 1989, President George H.W. Bush expanded the recognition to last an entire month. It begins on the 15th of September and ends on the 15th of October. The purpose is to recognize the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements for the United States.
If you love history, a good resource to learn about how closely the heritage of Hispanic Americans and the heritage of our country is intertwined is available at the National Archives. Every year they plan events, feature the contributions of people over the last year and provide many online resources for learning more.
For myself, I’ve always loved the Hispanic culture that I grew up with in southern California. As I’ve shared in previous posts, I lived in a multi-cultural neighborhood. I grew up with foster children from many cultures as well, including Hispanic. I began taking Spanish in school in fourth grade. As it was all around me, it seemed natural.
Mr. Serna was my teacher in both fourth and fifth grade, and definitely my favorite elementary school teacher. In fact, I named a teacher after him in my upcoming middle-grade children’s book, currently titled The Power of Sad. He is a teacher that helps my protagonist to embrace both her Ki’che’ and Spanish heritage and to learn how to blend the two with being an American.
My sister, closest in age to me, married a man who had immigrated from Mexico. Over the years, like many immigrants, they worked to bring all of his family to America. As is their tradition, his mother lived with them and was a major influence on raising their children. Hard workers, the Gomez family started their own dry cleaning business and eventually owned several stores. What I loved was the focus on family, which matched the same values of my family as well. Lots of love, lots of laughter, lots of singing, too. It was very easy for us all to meld together. Birthdays, Weddings, Anniversaries were all opportunities to be together, to mend rifts, to accept all.
My sister and her husband raised all of their children to be bilingual. They spoke Spanish in their home and English in school and other places outside of the home. It was great for me because, whenever I visited, I had lots of practice in speaking Spanish. This was especially true when I wanted to talk with the children’s grandmother, Nela. She didn’t speak much English at all; so I knew I couldn’t cheat and do half English and half Spanish.
After I left home, went to college, got married, lived in many other places, my connection to the Hispanic culture was not as strong. As I moved to Utah, Washington D.C., and Mississippi, the Hispanic population was not as pervasive as it was where I grew up. I also lost my fluency in speaking Spanish as there was not a plethora of Hispanic people around me. I really regret that, as now when I want to speak Spanish it is like I’m a first or second-year student again.
In my first middle-grade book, my protagonist and her two sisters are the children of a woman and grandparents who immigrated from Guatemala during a purge of Native Guatemalans–Mayans. In my book part of Akna’s heritage is Ki’iche’. She is trying to determine who she is and wants to be. Should she adopt the Ki’iche’ ways and language like her grandfather insisted? Or should she fully adopt only Spanish like her mother insisted, not wanting to accept her Native ties. Or should she forget both of those and be 100% American (whatever that means), because that is where she was born? Of course, it is all three. But that is difficult for an eleven to twelve-year-old to understand—a person who simply wants to find her tribe in school and in life.
I feel blessed to have grown up in southern California with a large Hispanic population and to have been a part of my sister’s family early on, and experience the culture, the food, the family ties. I am ecstatic about the movement in literature to provide a multicultural view of the world. To have more opportunities for children and adults to see both their own culture and others that may not be familiar to them. I believe the more we know of each other, the more we can celebrate both our differences and what we have in common.
As each generation grows, I suspect we lose more and more of those unique cultural and language indicators. I know my own heritage of German, Irish, and Scottish never had a language connection in our home. My ancestors emigrated in the late 1800s. Less than fifty years later none of my grandparents or great-grandparents spoke their ancestral languages. I never learned German or Gaelic
Some people believe and hope we will all be a mashup of so many cultures that there will be no more distinctions in the future. I hope that is not the case. I value the differences. It brings color and new ways of thinking to my life and to our country. Culture is more than costumes, dancing, different music. It is also based in language–a language that supports a certain way of thinking, analyzing, and living in the world. We need that in our lives in order or all of us to survive and thrive.
May we all take the time to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month, learn more about their culture, language, and family and bing it into our hearts. Let us celebrate both the differences and our commonalities.
Maggie Lynch is the author of 26 published books. Her fiction tells stories of people making heroic choices one messy moment at a time. Her novels span women’s fiction, SF & Fantasy, suspense, and romance. She is currently working on a Contemporary Upper Middle Grade children’s series. Her current nonfiction provides authors with information and tools for self-publishing from the basics of creating a professional book package to getting books distributed around the world. You can check out her personal website at maggielynch.com