In September 1968, Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week, which was to be observed during the week that included September 15th and 16th. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the observance to become Hispanic Heritage month, beginning on September 15th and ending on October 15th.
We observe Hispanic Heritage month in the United States by celebrating the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico, and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
September 15th was chosen as the starting point of Hispanic Heritage Month because it is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico declared its independence on September 16th and Chile became independent on September 18th.
Many Hispanic words have become part of the American language such as redo, cabana, macho, bonanza, mosquito, chocolate, tobacco, adobe, burro, corral, desperado, incommunicado, patio, plaza, poncho, vigilante, cafeteria, canoe, hurricane, cannibal, manatee, tomato, canyon, armada, bronco, and barbecue.
The word Hispanic is derived from Hispania, the name given by the Romans to the entire Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and Gibraltar). Portuguese and Brazilians may or may not refer to themselves as Hispanics.
The estimated Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2007 was 45.5 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. Hispanics constituted 15 percent of the nation’s total population. In addition, there are approximately 3.9 million residents of Puerto Rico.
The size of the U.S. Hispanic population ranked 2nd worldwide, as of 2007. Only Mexico (108.7 million) had a larger Hispanic population than the United States with 45.5 million (Spain had a population of 40.4 million).
There was an increase in the number of Hispanics on active duty in the military from 122,255 in 2007 to 149,680 in 2008. The 122,255 active-duty Hispanics in 2007 included 16,721 foreign-born members.