Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1988 in an effort to recognize the contributions that Hispanic and Latinx Americans have made to our nation. Hispanic Heritage Month spans from September 15th to October 15th. These dates were chosen to coincide with the independence of several Latin American countries: El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Moreover, an additional three Latin American countries celebrate the anniversary of their independence between September 16th and the 21st: Mexico, Belize, and Chile.
The Hispanic and Latinx communities have made immeasurable contributions to our country, stretching back centuries. In fact, long before Plymouth Rock or Jamestown, the first European settlement in America was San Miguel de Gauldape. Settled in 1607 in Georgia, Hispanic culture shaped some of the earliest parts of our nation’s history.
In the 400 years since then, countless Hispanic and Latinx Americans have helped forge our national identity. Almost a decade before Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark case in California, Menedez v. Westminster, helped desegregate California schools. This 1946 case meant that not only was discrimination by national origin unconstitutional, but so too was discrimination based on language.
At RePublic Schools, we’re lucky enough to teach hundreds of incredible Hispanic and Latinx students who we know will shape the next chapter of our country’s story. We sat down with scholars hailing from Ecuador, Cuba, El Salvador, Costa Rica, México, Honduras, and Guatemala who shared with us their favorite parts of their cultures.
When we asked scholars about their favorite part of their culture, the first answer that came to mind was always the same: food. Gabby and Ingris, whose families are from El Salvador, waxed poetic about their love of pupusas, a dish based on a thick corn tortilla and can be filled with a variety of savory fillings. Simeon, who hails from Guatemala, shared his passion for tamales. Mainor spoke of his love for Honduran pollo con tajadas, a chicken dish served with plantains. Marwin, whose family comes from Mexico, even showed us pictures of his favorite food, wanting us to see as many variations of picadas as he could find.
Beyond the culinary diversity of Latin America, scholars shared with us how they stay connected to their culture on a daily basis. Jessie spoke of her gratitude for the ways in which Mexican culture brings people together: “Families come together for all the biggest parts of our lives. Parties for us are big celebrations, [and I love] how creative they are. People always come up with lots of ideas.”
For Miguel, his connection with Honduras stays strong through music. Though he now concedes that he likes American music equally, Miguel played his favorite Honduran song for us “Reggaetón Lento (Bailemos)” by CNCO. Miguel’s love of music has inspired him to hone his gift as a singer, and he has even appeared on Honduran Reality TV in the singing competition show Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento. More recently, Miguel lent his talents to our schools and sang the National Anthem at the first ever RHS Homecoming Football Game.
Both Monica and Reese have family members living in Cuba. For Monica, going to visit Cuba frequently helps her stay connected to Cuban culture. For Reese, he stays connected by speaking to his cousins who live there. Reese also mentioned how the recent spate of hurricanes have pushed him to strengthen his ties to the country even more. When we asked about the differences between Cuban and American culture, Reese mentioned how much he valued that “Cubans don’t focus as much on materialistic things...for the most part, they don’t care who you are, they’ll accept you.” Monica added that “It’s the fact that everybody knows everybody. I’ll go to Cuba and it’s so much different from being here. In my neighborhood [in Nashville], I don’t really know everybody, but in Cuba, everybody knows everybody. Everyone goes to you if they have a problem or if they need anything. You communicate a lot.” In particular, both Reese and Monica wanted to make sure we knew that Cuban music is special among its other Latin peers. They lauded the music’s intricacy and its ability to bring people together.
Through our conversations, many scholars voiced their desire for people in America to learn more about the unique cultures that make up Hispanic and Latinx life. Kevin wanted people to know how fun Ecuador is to explore. Nichole wanted people to drop their stereotypes about Mexicans, noting that “we aren’t all just thugs or cholos.” Jennifer added that the more realistic portrait of Mexico would show how people are just “loud, funny, and like to dance.”
Hispanic Heritage Month represents a great opportunity for us to reexamine the colorful tapestry that makes up the RePublic family. In our conversations, we saw scholars light up at the chance to share their cultures and teach us about parts of their unique heritage. These conversations also reaffirmed for us, more than ever, of the potential of each and every one of our scholars to shape the future of our communities and our nation. We have no doubt that the scholars we spoke to today will be the Hispanic and Latinx leaders of tomorrow.