Celebrating Hispanic, Latinx heritage

In 1988, Hispanic Heritage Week became National Hispanic Heritage Month covering a 30-day period, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. At Moody Air Force Base, Ga., NHHM was celebrated in February under a new Air Force initiative that condenses heritage and awareness months into two Diversity Days. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Callaghan)

In 1988, Hispanic Heritage Week became National Hispanic Heritage Month covering a 30-day period, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. At Moody Air Force Base, Ga., NHHM was celebrated in February under a new Air Force initiative that condenses heritage and awareness months into two Diversity Days. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Callaghan)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

At Moody, National Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated in February under the new Air Force initiative that condenses heritage and awareness months into two days throughout the year called Diversity Days.

As the actual month comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on how it started and what the month is all about.

Hispanic Heritage Week started in 1968 during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson but was expanded to a month, by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, to cover Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. HHW was renamed to HHM and was created to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans.

“Each year Americans observe the National Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lionel Garcia, 23d Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “The day of 15 September is significant because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries.”

In order to really understand what the month celebrates, it helps to know what the difference between Hispanic and Latino, or Latinx which is the gender neutral alternative.

Often, Hispanic and Latinx are used interchangeably, even though Hispanic refers to language, while Latinx refers to geographic location. Being Hispanic means you have a family history in a Spanish-speaking country, while Latinx refers to having origins in North and South of America geographically south of the United States. Latin countries also tend to predominantly speak Portuguese instead of Spanish.

These cultures often intertwine so someone could be both Latinx and Hispanic and HHM includes important dates for both cultures.

"The day of 15 Sept. is significant because it is the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries," said Garcia.

These countries include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and 18, respectively, and Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, is predominately observed October 12, which falls within the 30 day period.

Dia de la Raza or the Day of the Race is not the celebration of Columbus but of the pathway he opened which allowed others to create the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society of today which has fostered the brilliant contributions in the U.S. celebrated during HHM.

Notably, the Hispanic population continues to grow within the U.S. with more than 157,000 Hispanics serving in the armed forces and approximately 134 serving here, at Moody.

“According to the 2010 Census 50.5 million people or 16 percent of the population are Hispanic or Latino origin,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Guillermo Castillo Jr. “We are the No.1 growing population in America and will continue to positively impact the military, economics, politics, education and society for generations to come.”

With the talks of immigration laws changing a lot of the milestones and accomplishments of Americans of Latinx and Hispanic descent are being forgotten. It is important to remember that these are people who have made positive contributions to our society.

Customs and cultures may be different but it is important for us to understand those cultures and to appreciate those differences. That’s what makes America diverse.

“It is this diversity that has developed and defined America as a melting pot and a great world power,” said Castillo. “It is this diversity that I have come to appreciate and celebrate.

“United we stand, divided we fall and together we can make a difference. Together we are America’s past, present and future with many backgrounds, many stories and one American spirit.”