Hispanic Heritage Month: The Evolution and Celebration

Celebrations have been underway all weekend as Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off officially from September 15th through October 15.

Dancers during parade in Las Vegas.

Dancers during parade in Las Vegas.

The month pays tribute to the contributions Hispanics make and have made to the United States.  It also celebrates the different cultures and history brought to the U.S. from the ancestors of those from more than two dozen Spanish speaking countries.

The beginning of the celebration falls during a commemoration of Independence Day for several Latin American countries including Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico.

As a reporter, I learned that this was initially just considered a designated week by federal lawmakers until the late 1980’s. That’s when it was changed into an entire month.

And a journalist was right there when it was transformed but Robert Lopez was not a reporter at the time. The current reporter for the Los Angeles Times recalls being a college student and congressional intern helping with the process of getting H.R. 3182 passed.

“It’s amazing to see it 25 years later,” Lopez says, “Nobody knew what would happen. We just wanted it to pass.”

Young charros with lassos

Young charros with lassoes

A quarter of a century later, it has grown very large across the United States. While there may be many events in your communities worthy of covering, during the initial week, this is a month long celebration. There is much territory that can be covered than just the “planned” events.

Lopez suggests using Latinos as sources, not just as subjects. He also says when writing stories about the community make sure there is a balanced perspective. There are many different countries or origins with complexities that cannot be lumped into together because of a common language.

While the Census estimates Hispanics are approximately 53 million, they are likely your readers, viewers and listeners as well. As the generations pass, many speak English and a growing number do not even know Spanish but hold tight to to their cultures and traditions.

If you’re not already consistently covering Hispanics in your news coverage, here is a good opportunity to expand over the next few weeks. There are stories everywhere from small businesses, unsung heroes, cultural traditions from the arts to food, and Hispanics are impacting the country economically.

Who knows how they could impact your newspaper or station?

Sandra Gonzalez is SPJ Diversity Committee Chair, Las Vegas SPJ Chapter Secretary,  NAHJ member, and reporter for KSNV-TV Las Vegas, Nevada.

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