Hispanic Heritage Month Familia Celebracións
Each autumn, we send our children off to school as we await the start of a monthlong cultural celebration of people who speak Spanish and bear Latino ancestry. From September 15 to October 15, the United States recognizes the achievements of Hispanics and Latinos through National Hispanic Heritage Month.
A good way to kick off your family’s individual celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month is by learning a little bit of its history.
A brief history of Hispanic Heritage Month
Fifty-four years ago, in 1968, California Congressman George E. Brown successfully introduced Hispanic Heritage Month into Congress as a week-long celebration, and then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law. The late 1960s was the perfect time to start recognizing the achievements of Hispanics on a national level, because the idea rose up during a volatile time with the civil rights movement. At that time, the United States became more sensitive to multicultural groups and sought to honor them.
In 1987, then-President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill that expanded the weeklong celebration into an entire month of recognizing the achievements of Hispanics. The first day of the celebration, September 15, was specifically chosen to coincide with the declaration of independence of Central American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua from Spanish control on September 15, 1821, as well as the independence of Mexico, Chile and Belize on nearby dates.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at D.C. Venues
Throughout the month, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will host lively cultural events including bilingual concerts, lectures, movie screenings and poetry readings, to name a few.
Families can celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by attending scheduled public events and also by taking a self-guided route that explores the beautiful culture of Spanish-speaking people. One unique plan for families is to go walking through District neighborhoods to enjoy the public art installations of Latino murals.
In Adams Morgan, for example, families can wander around:
- “Un Pueblo Sin Murales Es Un Pueblo Desmuralizado” located at 1817 Adams Mill Road, NW
- “Nueva Vida” located at 600 T Street, NW
- “Currulao y Desplazamiento” at U Street, NW
Observing murals and talking about the imagery with children serves as an excellent conversation starter and teaching tool for children. Children may not necessarily understand what is in the mural or what it represents. Having quality family time to interpret the murals and talk about the joys and struggles of the Latino culture will lead to thoughtful questions, discussions and, ultimately, empathy and understanding. Using public art as a means of recognizing the contributions of Latinos is family friendly, educational and readily available to families at any time.
Another wonderful activity suitable for all ages is to see live entertainment. The Gala Hispanic Theatre in Washington, D.C. offers dance, theater and music performances with Latinos in starring roles. Furia Flamenca is a D.C.-based performing arts company that offers dance classes and performances in the art of flamenco. Its artistic director was born in Puerto Rico, received dance training in Spain and has successfully brought to the D.C. metro area her love and fiery passion for the illustrative dance.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at Home
In addition to celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at public venues throughout the D.C. area, families can do lots of creative things at home to learn about the Latino culture and have fun at the same time.
Understanding the Latino culture through cooking
One of the simplest things families can do together is pick a recipe from the Latino culture and make yummy foods at home. Some interesting choices to try are Andalusian gazpacho soup, a tomato-based soup blended with cucumbers, peppers, garlic and vinegar, or paella Valenciana, a yellow rice dish with peas and assorted seafood topped with saffron. Both the gazpacho and the paella are mainstay dishes in different regions of Spain, a beautiful European country for families to discuss during Hispanic Heritage Month. Virtually traveling towards South America, families can make a pit stop at Colombia to test out their best bandeja paisa, a hearty platter containing ground beef, pork, rice and beans, a fried egg and fried plantain, garnished with avocado. Heading back north to Central America, families will love virtually exploring countries such as El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala, to name a few.
The countries in Central America are very well known for their pupusas, a simple yet hearty and tasty griddlecake filled with a combination of beans and cheese or a meat. Pupusas are slightly thick and are topped with curtido, a crunchy salad topping consisting of cabbage, carrots and oregano with a vinegar-like dressing.
Reading about the Latino culture at local libraries
Our area’s public library systems offer excellent choices for families wanting to spend quality time together learning more about Hispanic Heritage Month. There are nonfiction selections that discuss historical and educational facts about Spanish-speaking countries. There are also cookbooks, songbooks, prayer books and more. The fiction selections include popular novels written by authors from the Latino culture.
Books to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Reading books together that are written and illustrated by Hispanic authors and illustrators is a marvelous way to connect with the achievements of the Hispanic community with an enjoyable activity that is both fun and educational.
Here are a few titles to inspire you!
- “Get Together” is a board book focusing on the relationships between animals and shapes. “Eat Together” is a board book that offers visual play between food and shapes. Illustrated by Spain-based Miguel Ordóñez, these books are perfect for very young readers ages 1-3.
- “My Papi has a Motorcycle” is also written in Spanish in “Mi Papi Tiene una Moto.” It’s a heartfelt book written from a young girl’s perspective about the love she has for her father and her visits to an immigrant neighborhood. Perfect for children ages 4-8. Written and illustrated by Mexican-Americans Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña respectively.
- “The Cot in the Living Room,” also for ages 4-8, is a story about a family in New York City. The parents set up a cot in the living room and invite guests to spend the night. The little girl gets jealous until she finds out the real reason why the guests sleep over. This book teaches children how to be empathetic to others and understand that not everything is as glamorous as it seems. Written by Hilda Eunice Burgosis and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, both Dominicans.
- “My Two Border Towns,” also written in Spanish as “Mis Dos Pueblos Fronterizos,” is a fictional account of a father and son taking a trip to the other side of the United States — Mexico border. While the trip includes pleasant aspects such as cold treats and a visit with family, it also becomes a lesson in caring for refugees who seek asylum in the United States. Written by Mexican author David Bowles and illustrated by Mexican artist Erika Mezawa.
However your family chooses to celebrate, remember to keep it light, fun and interesting. It should feel like a fun thing to do together sprinkled with some interesting learning along the way!