Every year, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the nation honors the contributions of Latino and Hispanic communities with the observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time set apart to highlight and celebrate the diversity, culture and traditions of the Latino people.
Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the anniversary of independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile and Belize also celebrate their independence days during this period.
Hispanics are the nation’s largest ethnic minority. According to the Census, an estimated 58.9 million people, or 18.1% of the American population, are of Hispanic or Latino origin.
Although the general perception of the Hispanic population is tied to the Mexican community, Hispanic Americans have different national origins. While Mexicans do make up the largest segment, the population of Hispanics with other origins have grown at a much faster rate.
According to Census data, there are approximately 57,000 Latinos in Lancaster County. The three largest groups are Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Dominicans.
Here are some facts about Hispanics in the United States:
• Contrary to many beliefs, Hispanic is not a race, but an ethnicity. The terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ are used interchangeably in the United States for people with origins in Spanish-speaking or Portuguese-speaking countries.
• Hispanic population in the U.S. is approximately 55 million.
• Los Angeles is 45% Latino and has the largest Latino population of all U.S. cities.
• The median age of the Hispanic population is 29.
• With 460 million native speakers, Spanish ranks as the world’s No. 2 language in terms of how many people speak it as their first language. It is slightly ahead of English (379 million) but behind Chinese (1.3 billion).
• New York’s metropolitan area is 24% Latino. Puerto Ricans and Dominicans make up 27% and 21% of the Latino population, respectively.
• Famous writers and journalists with Hispanic heritage include Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, Oscar Hijuelos, Maria Hinojosa, Geraldo Rivera, Louis Santeiro and Gary Soto.
• There are 1.1 million Hispanic veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
• Famous entertainers with Hispanic heritage include Desi Arnaz, Lynda Carter, Sammy Davis Jr., Cameron Diaz, Emilio Estevez, America Ferrera, Andy Garcia, Salma Hayek, Rita Hayworth, Raul Julia, Jennifer Lopez, Anthony Quinn and Charlie Sheen, Linda Ronstadt, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Gloria Estefan, Trini Lopez, Ricky Martin, Carlos Santana, Selena and Rita Moreno.
• Seventy percent of the Hispanic population lives in five states: California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.
• In 1928 Octaviano A. Larrazolo, a free-thinking Republican lawyer from New Mexico who immigrated to the United States as a boy from Mexico, was elected the first Hispanic Senator in U.S. history.
• Joseph Hernández (Jose Mariano Hernandez), the first Hispanic member of Congress and the first Territorial Delegate to represent Florida, bridged his state’s cultural and governmental transition from Spanish colony to U.S. territory.
• Mario Molina won a Nobel Prize for his crucial work in understanding how the ozone layer is formed and depleted.
• Famous athletes with Hispanic heritage include Roberto Alomar, Jose Canseco, Oscar De La Hoya, Scott Gomez, Pedro Martinez, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and Nancy Lopez.
• Leaders and activists with Hispanic heritage include Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez, David Barkley, Linda Chavez-Thompson and Ernesto Galarza.
• Famous scientists with Hispanic heritage include Severo Ochoa, Luis Walter Alvarez and Mario Molina (Nobel Prize winners), and Ellen Ochoa, Franklin Chang-Diaz and Carlos Noriega (astronauts).
• Felix Longoria was killed in action in the Philippines during World War II. When his remains were returned to his hometown (Three Rivers, Texas), the local funeral home would not allow him to lay in state and he could not be buried in the white section of the cemetery. When this was reported in national newspapers, Longoria became the first Mexican-American to be interred in Arlington National Cemetery.