National Hispanic Heritage Month officially kicked off on September 15 and lasts until October 15. It's a time meant to honor and celebrate the culture, contributions and ongoing struggles that people of Hispanic and Latino descent experience in the U.S. The term "Hispanic" refers to the origin Spanish-speakers, whereas the term "Latino" refers to people with Latin American ancestry-- the majority of which speak Spanish, with the exception of countries like Brazil or some of the Caribbean Islands. Oftentimes the terms get Latino and Hispanic are conflated--particularly in government data-- but this celebratory month recognizes the achievements and history of both identities.
Here's a roundup of just some of the contributions Latino and Hispanic Americans have made to the US:
Hispanic Heritage Month is particularly significant given the political climate right now and the current presidential administration's rhetoric about border walls, DACA repeal and recent pardoning of the notorious Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, reiterate the need to show solidarity with Latino Americans is particularly pressing.
Throughout his campaign for president, Donald Trump made disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants by equating them with criminals and rapists. He also promised to build a wall along the U.S. southern border that he would make the Mexican government pay for—a promise that he has yet to deliver on. Since his inauguration, Trump and his administration have aggressively gone after sanctuary cities, locales where local law enforcement doesn't cooperate with federal agents on deportation protocol, in an effort to crackdown on illegal immigration by withholding federal funding.
The president also attacked DACA, a program to ensure that people immigrated to the US as undocumented children are able to receive an education and job opportunities. On September 5, President Trump announced that he was ending the program, leaving it up to Congress to decide how to handle the lives of nearly 800,000 other young undocumented immigrants. Following the announcement, Trump struck a deal with Democratic congressional leaders to keep DACA in place, which chafed his Republican base.
Republicans have now proposed the SUCCEED ACT, a more conservative version of DACA with stricter regulations for a pathway to citizenship. Trump has given Congress a six-month deadline to make a decision on what to do with DREAMERS, whose fate continues to remain in limbo.
Take action to make sure your voice is heard if you feel strongly about respecting Latino-Americans during Hispanic Heritage Month and throughout the year. Also, contribute to the Hurricane Relief efforts to aid Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is a US territory, which means its citizens are Americans too. Here's how you can help the island rebuild its economy and infrastructure after the devastation caused by the storm.
And don't forget to register to vote and participating in local elections. Many issues that affect the Hispanic and Latino community in the United States are decided at the local level. If you're already registered, then contact your representative and senators— every state has two— to put pressure on policymakers to protect the interests of all citizens.