During National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), we recognize the contributions made by and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and celebrate the group's heritage and culture. Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on our country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service. They have enhanced and shaped our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect the multiethnic and multicultural customs of their community.
Hispanic Heritage Month, whose roots go back to 1968, begins each year on September 15, the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile, and Belize also celebrate their independence days during this period, and Columbus Day (Día de la Raza) is October 12.
The term Hispanic or Latino refers to Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. On the 2010 Census form, people of Spanish, Hispanic, and/or Latino origin could identify themselves as Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or "another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin."
Many Hispanic Americans trace their roots to the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas -- including the Arawaks (Puerto Rico), the Aztecs (Mexico), the Incas (South America), the Maya (Central America), and the Tainos (in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other places). Some trace their roots to the Spanish.
Hispanic roots in the Americas — North, South, Central — are deep. Here in the United States, we sometimes forget that the first permanent European settlers in North America spoke Spanish, not English. Despite our strong ties with Great Britain, the first European colony on the East Coast wasn’t Jamestown, Virginia (1607) but San Miguel de Gualdape, founded along the Savannah River in Georgia in 1526 — although the Spanish settlement did not survive past its first year. And when the Pilgrims began building their homes in Plymouth in 1620, St. Augustine, Florida had been a settled community since 1565, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, had been a thriving administrative center for ten years. During what is known as the period of exploration, 1492–1542, approximately 300,000 Spaniards emigrated to the New World, establishing more than 200 cities and towns and acquiring more new territory for Spain than Rome had conquered in 500 years. Today, the United States is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. More than 2,000 cities and towns have Spanish names, as do seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico). (Information from APS and USPS booklets)
Admiral David G. Farragut first Hispanic American on a stamp.