Rethinking Hispanic Heritage Month

Rethinking Hispanic/Latino/a Heritage Month


The United States is home to 60 million Latino residents who play a crucial role in strengthening ties across the Americas. This month, we are amplifying Latino voices and the many contributions this diverse community has made to diplomacy, sustainability, and beyond.

Origin of the “Hispanic” Narrative

In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the only law in this country’s history that mandated the collection and analysis of data for a specific ethnic group: Americans of Spanish origin or descent. The Nixon administration coined the term “Hispanic” to gather data about the Latino community, which reduced about 15 regions in South and Central America to one group while excluding indigenous people, Brazilians, and the non-Spanish-speaking Caribbean. By using “Hispanic” to identify people in the Latino community, many argue the term condones the legacies of Spanish colonialism. While including this community in the census was an accomplishment at the time, we must consider the adverse effects of pan-ethnic terms. NPR’s Code Switch episode “Who Put the ‘Hispanic’ in Hispanic Heritage Month?” helps unpack the history of the term “Hispanic”, the U.S. Census, and where the Latino community stands with the Hispanic identity.

Culture and Environmentalism

According to a survey by The New York Times and Stanford University, “Among Hispanic respondents to the poll, 54 percent rated global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites.” This response is linked to findings within an article from Princeton University that states, “People of color are more likely to die of environmental causes, and more than half of the people who live close to hazardous waste are people of color.” Some activists consider this a “new Jim Crow” due to the lack of accessibility and inequitable living conditions. “Latino households in the United States are in locations that are adversely affected by particulate pollution, by poor water quality,” said Gary Segura, co-founder of Latino Decisions in an article by Asma Khalid for NPR. While conservation and sustainable practices have been a part of BIPOC communities since the beginning of time, many Latinos are not active in green organizations, according to Mark Magaña, president and CEO of GreenLatinos. Rather, Latinos consider themselves cultural environmentalists who tap into the traditions of their ancestors to confront the intersection of environmental and racial injustices. In this Grist article by Yvette Cabrera, multiple Latino leaders in sustainability share their relationship with sustainability and careers in diplomacy for the environment.

Equal Access to Careers in Foreign Affairs

According to a 2019 study at the Pew Research Center, 42% of U.S. Hispanic adults ages 25 and older had at least some college experience in 2019. Overall, Latinos with a bachelor’s degree or more education increased from 13% to 18%. Taking this into account, what have Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) or continuing education programs done to provide more accessible careers in diplomacy? In a Foreign Affairs article by Joaquin Castro, he wrote, “U.S. diplomats are some of the country’s best public servants, but the State Department, as the oldest executive agency, needs renewal… The country needs new expertise, particularly in global health, economics, and emerging technologies.” Meridian is working to bridge the accessibility gap through Diplomacy Readiness, Innovation, Skill, and Equity (RISE), an inclusive diplomatic, professional development program that strives to provide greater access to critical skills training, career guidance networks, and emerging issue expertise to cultivate the next generation of U.S. diplomats that reflect America’s diversity. Through this initiative, Meridian hopes to strategically develop and diversify the international affairs field for all groups by working with public and private sector partners to recruit, cultivate and train global affairs professionals on contemporary critical issues, such as cyber security, climate change, and public health.

What lies ahead for the Latino community and the U.S. Census?

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, Black and Hispanic adults were more likely than white adults to say their origins are central to their identity, and that they feel a solid connection to their family’s cultural roots. Another Pew survey of Latino adults shows that one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos self-identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean, or of African descent with roots in Latin America. Though efforts have been initiated, little to no action has been made to include multicultural identities in the Census. Researchers of the 2020 Census planned to combine questions about race and Hispanic origin, which would have allowed Hispanics or other groups that often do not see themselves in traditional racial categories to select more than one race or write in alternatives. But neither change was implemented for 2020. With the evolution of generations, the term “Hispanic” is losing its significance. According to Pew Research Center, 54% of foreign-born Hispanics say speaking Spanish is an essential part of what being Hispanic means to them, compared with 44% of second-generation Hispanics and 20% of third- or higher-generation Hispanics. Also taking into account the heterogeneity among persons of Latin America in the U.S., about one-in-four U.S. Hispanics have heard of Latinx, but just 3% use the term. As we press onward to a more inclusive world, we must question, “How are these communities benefiting from the U.S. Census?”