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  • Writer's pictureJaxon Price

Hispanic Heritage Month

Did you know that one in five Americans identifies as Hispanic American? That's more than 18% of the American population. Hispanics, or Latinos, are an ethnic group in the United States who trace their roots to Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, or other Spanish-speaking countries. Although Hispanic Americans come from a variety of backgrounds and countries, a common language and culture bring them together into a community.


In 1988 Hispanic Heritage Month was made an official month to celebrate "the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America." (National Hispanic Heritage Month official government site). This is a month of celebrating the rich culture of Hispanic Americans.



Why we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month


In most schools, American children learn about the accomplishments of English-speaking Americans throughout history, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or even people of color such as Martin Luther King Jr. What we often don’t learn are the accomplishments of the Latino Americans who have paved the way for all of us. In American public education, history often starts with the story of the pilgrims and the early British settlers. Most Americans don't know that Spanish explorers, such as Juan Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez, arrived in the land we know today as the United States long before English-speaking settlers would arrive in 1607. Unfortunately, this part of history is often left untold. Most Americans can name at least a few African American figures in history, such as Malcolm X or Harriet Tubman, but when it comes to Hispanic Americans they aren't as widely acknowledged.


Another reason is that Latino Americans face unique struggles and issues. We need Hispanic Heritage month to highlight these issues, so we can make a change. In the past, Hispanic Americans faced heavy discrimination and were often treated as second-class citizens, struggling through unfair labor and segregation laws. Unfortunately, the effects are still present today. Despite playing an important role in making our country the place we know today, Hispanic Americans and their various contributions to society are often not acknowledged. This is why it’s important to have a special month dedicated to Hispanic Heritage.



Hispanic Heritage Month: 5 Latino American Heroes in History


“During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize that Hispanic heritage is American heritage. We see it in every aspect of our national life: on our television and movie screens, in the music that moves our feet, and in the foods we enjoy.” -President Joe Biden, A Proclamation on National Hispanic Heritage Month, 2021


In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, here at ReDefiners World Languages, we wanted to showcase five important heroes in Hispanic American history, and their inspiring stories: Justice Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice; Cesar Chavez, a worker’s right’s activist; Sylvia Mendez, whose landmark case helped end segregation of schools; Jorge Ramos, the most well-known Spanish-language journalist in the United States; and Raul Julia, a hard-working actor and activist from Puerto Rico.


Justice Sotomayor



This is a picture of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, wearing a judge's robe
Justice Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Judge

This image is sourced from the Supreme Court of the United States. For more information, please visit this link.

1954-

"There are uses to adversity, and they don't reveal themselves until tested. Whether it's serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unexpected strengths."

Sonia Sotomayer's life is a story of perseverance and courage. From the age of 10, she knew she wanted to work in the courts one day. Growing up in the Bronx during the 1970s, there weren't many people like her to whom she could look up to for inspiration. Nevertheless, she worked tirelessly to achieve her dream. In high school, she spent long hours studying and graduated at the top of her class with a full-ride scholarship to Princeton University.


Sotomayor faced many difficulties during her time as a law student. Being the daughter of two Puerto Ricans, Spanish was her first language. This gave her a disadvantage to her peers who were more comfortable using the complex language required in the legal profession. Determined to improve, she sought the help of professors, who pushed her to become the eloquent and tactful writer she is known as today. Her mastery of the English language, combined with her intelligence and drive, set her apart from her peers. Eventually, Sotomayor would go on to graduate summa cum laude.


In 2009, her hard work paid off tremendously. Nominated by President Barack Obama, Sotomayor became the first woman of color to serve as Supreme Justice in the United States.


Despite the hardships and discrimination she faced as a Puerto Rican, she is proud of where she comes from. She embraces the hardships she faced as a Latina and uses her experiences to enrich her work with wisdom and cultural knowledge. She even made a guest appearance on Sesame Street!


Cesar Chavez


This is a picture of Cesar Chavez, an older Latino man, in front of a banner.
Cesar Chavez, a famous worker's rights activist

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.


1927-1993

“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice”

When it comes to Hispanic Americans, few others have made such a lasting impact on Latino culture as Cesar Chavez. A symbol of selflessness and peace, Chavez is remembered in many communities as a hero. Through his acts of activism, Chavez established himself as a leader among communities of Hispanic Americans and inspired millions to work together for change.


Cesar Chavez was born in 1927 in Yuma, Arizona. At the time, segregation still existed, and many Mexican Americans were often treated as second-class citizens and forced to work for very low wages. Chavez experienced the harsh realities of working in the fields as a child. In the 8th grade, he dropped out of school to help his family work the fields.

As an adult, Chavez wanted to end the unfair treatment of Mexican laborers, and in 1962 he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. Inspired by Gandhi, Chavez promoted non-violent tactics of protest. In 1965, he would lead Filipino Farm Workers through a historical strike that lasted nearly five years. Today, Chavez’s name has become synonymous with the Chicano movements of the '60s.

Jorge Ramos



This is a picture of Jorge Ramos sitting behind an Anchor's desk.
Jorge Ramos, one of the best Spanish-language journalists in the United States

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.


1958-


“My only advice is, follow your dream and do whatever you like to do the most. I chose journalism because I wanted to be in the places where history was being made.”

Jorge Ramos is a journalist for the American news station Univision. He is known as one of the best Spanish-language newscasters in the United States with ten Emmy Awards.

Jorge Ramos was born and raised in Mexico City, where he started his career as a journalist. Frustrated by the censorship of journalists in Mexico, he decided to move to California. There, he worked hard to build his career and became known as one of the best Spanish-language news anchors in the United States. Throughout his career, Ramos has covered several wars and important events, including the fall of the Berlin wall. Ramos is an advocate for freedom of speech and is known to question political leaders. In 2015, during a press conference for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, Jorge Ramos famously stood up and questioned Trump on allegations, refusing to sit down.

Sylvia Mendez


This is a portrait shot of Sylvia Mendez, an older Mexican woman. She's wearing a white shirt, and she has shoulder-length black hair.
Sylvia Mendez integrated Mexican schools and white schools when she was eight years old.

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.


1936-

When Sylvia Mendez was eight years old, her parents would make a decision that would change not only her life but the lives of minorities around the United States. In 1940s California, segregation was still widespread, and the children of Hispanic Americans were not allowed to attend all-white schools. Sylvia Mendez, along with her two siblings, attended what was called a “Mexican School.” Segregation of schools was rationalized under the idea that the schools were “separate but equal.” However, students of the Mexican schools were not given the same quality and materials as the all-white schools. Mexican families were often treated as second-class citizens. In 1945, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez would sue four different school districts for discrimination. Backed by the NAACP, the Mendez family won the case, and Sylvia became one of the first Mexican Americans to attend an all-white school in California. The case later became an inspiration for the now historical Brown vs. The Board of Education case. In 2011, Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her inspiring story.

Raul Julia


This is a black and white photo of Raul Julia
Raul Julia was a famous actor

This image is sourced from IMDB. For more information, please visit this link.


1940-1994

Born in Puerto Rico, Julia moved to the United States at a young age, hoping to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. As a newcomer to the U.S. mainland with little money, he struggled to find work in the hustle and bustle of New York City. After years of auditions and odd jobs, he finally landed his first Broadway role in 1971. Throughout his life, he would star in many lead roles in both theater and film. He is most known for his iconic role as Gomez Addams in the 1991 film The Addams Family. During his lifetime, Raul Julia won numerous awards for his acting. He was recognized by his peers for being a hardworking and talented actor. When he wasn't acting, Raul donated his time and money to support charities and organizations. He became one of the leading supporters of The Hunger Project, an organization for ending world hunger. After years of success as an actor, Raul wanted to help young members of his community achieve their dreams. He sponsored and organized programs to help support aspiring Latino actors and playwrights to get their start.


Even in his last years, as he was battling stomach cancer, he never gave up acting. Even on his deathbed, he was reportedly seen reading his lines for an upcoming role. His hard work, passion, and willingness to help others have inspired many.


 

There are many, many more Hispanic Americans who have paved the way for us today. While writing this post, I realized how little I knew about Hispanic American culture despite its importance. It's interesting how a simple difference in language can separate us so easily.

If you're interested in connecting more with Hispanic American culture, or the many other Spanish-speaking countries in the world, check out our courses. At ReDefiners World Languages, we offer high-quality courses in not only Spanish but Arabic, English, and Mandarin Chinese. Whether you're a beginner or advanced student, we offer affordable lessons for learners of all ages. Study with a native speaker, and earn an official certificate--all from the comfort of your home. We can’t wait to have you join us!


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