¡Feliz Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana! Today is the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month! You may be asking, why does this heritage month start in the middle of this month and end in the middle of next month. The date, September 15th, coincides with Independence Day of five Central American countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They declared their independence from Spain on that date in 1821. Hispanic Heritage Month began as a Hispanic Heritage Week when it was first introduced in June of 1968 by California Congressman George E. Brown. Then on September 17, 1968, Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson declared September 15th and 16th would mark our National Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1987, U.S. Representative Esteban E. Torres of California proposed the expanding the week into a whole month so that the nation could “properly observe and coordinate events and activities to celebrate Hispanic culture and achievement.” On September 14, 1989, President George H.W. Bush declared that September 15th to October 15th would be National Hispanic Heritage Month.
This month is to celebrate the many cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx Americans, and it also serves to honor the culture, heritage, and history of those in these communities. Here are just a few of these notable individuals:
1. Ellen Ochoa is the first Hispanic American woman to go to space with a nine-day mission in 1993. She was born in 1958 in Los Angeles and obtained her physics degree from San Diego State University and her masters and doctorate from Stanford University’s department of electrical engineering by 1985. She did extensive research for NASA and in 1991 went in to space on the Discovery space shuttle. Ochoa studied the earth’s ozone layer and made three more trips to space. She retired after serving for over thirty years and continues to advocate for women in STEM.
2. Sylvia Rivera is an influential Hispanic American, drag queen, and also an iconic figure in the gay and transgender rights movement. After losing both of her parents before the age of 3, Rivera was raised by her transphobic grandmother in New York City. After an extremely rough childhood and being forced to live on the streets at the age of ten, Sylvia was able to grow into an extraordinary woman who founded the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which helped house and support LGBTQ youth in Manhattan. That group also worked with the Gay Liberation Front, founded after the Stonewall Riot in 1969. Rivera was honored as one of the 50 activists included in the Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights.
3. José Andrés is a critically acclaimed chef who came to the U.S. from Spain, but he’s not only known for his amazing cooking abilities. After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Andrés formed the World Central Kitchen (WCK), an organization that provides hot meals to those affected by natural disasters. In 2017, Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and Andrés gathered 19,000 volunteers to serve 3.5 million meals to distraught residents who had limited access to electricity, clean water, and food. In 2019, Andrés fed furloughed workers during a month-long government shutdown. Andrés won the James Beard Award for both Outstanding Chef and Humanitarian of the Year and was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.
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