National Hispanic Heritage Month spans September 15 to October 15, giving Rhode Islanders a chance to celebrate Latino culture and heritage in mild weather, bright sunlight and a blaze of autumn colors. With a burgeoning Latino/Latina population, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have found their cultural heritage enriched in innumerable ways.
Hispanic Heritage Month was first recognized officially in 1968. It begins on September 15, a day on which five separate Latin American nations celebrate their independence: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico’s Independence Day, September 16, also falls during Hispanic Heritage Month, as does Columbus Day (Día de la Raza) on October 12.
The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are multi-racial and multi-cultural. They encompass anyone who comes from a Caribbean, South or Central America or other Spanish-influenced culture or origin in the Americas.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we can also take a moment to reflect on the cultural, social and legal challenges that have confronted generations of immigrants coming to the United States. Sadly, our nation’s earliest immigrants faced discrimination as did successive waves of immigrants, all of whom sought a better life in the United States. Today, while America has grown more culturally diverse and accepting, discrimination against minorities remains a societal challenge that requires vigilance and continued work.
As an attorney, I am privileged to fight for the rights of many minorities who don’t always receive the equal treatment they deserve. As a fluent Spanish-speaking attorney, it’s especially helpful for me to be able to speak with our Latino/Latina clients in their native tongue as I help them with Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability claims, personal injury claims or medical malpractice lawsuits.
As we celebrate the many cultural joys of Hispanic Heritage Month, we need to always remember the importance of working as a community to protect the rights of our Latino/Latina population, which currently numbers about 50.5 million Americans who identify their origin as Hispanic or Latino. That’s 16 percent of the U.S. population.
Facts for Hispanic Heritage Month
The Pew Research Center collects information on cultural groups throughout the United States. Here are several facts gathered from U.S. Census data to help you learn more about Latino life in the U.S.:
Latinos come from many nations.
People of Mexican origin are the single largest Hispanic group in the U.S., currently accounting for about two-thirds of all Americans who trace their origins back to a Latin American country. There are about 34 million people of Mexican origin living in the United States. Puerto Ricans are a close second. This group includes 4.9 million people in the United States itself, and another 3.5 million individuals who live on the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans, Guatemalans and Colombians are also represented heavily in the U.S. Hispanic population – over 1 million in each group currently call the United States home.
Diversity in Hispanic communities varies by city.
In Los Angeles, 78 percent of Latino residents claim Mexican origin. In New York City, however, you’re more likely to meet someone of Puerto Rican (28 percent) or Dominican (21 percent) background. Washington, D.C.’s Latino population is nearly one-third Salvadoran, and in Miami, people of Cuban descent make up 54 percent of the Hispanic population.
Rhode Island has one of the most diverse Hispanic populations in the country.
Unlike Los Angeles or Miami, in Rhode Island, no single Hispanic culture has a clear majority. Instead, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are home to one of the most diverse Latino populations in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 131,000 Latinos living in Rhode Island, making it the largest minority group in the state. Rhode Island’s Hispanic population identifies itself as 28 percent Puerto Rican, 26 percent Dominican, 15 percent Guatemalan, 8 percent Mexican, 4 percent Salvadoran, and 18 percent “other.” Massachusetts is home to 631,000 Hispanics, who account for 10 percent of the population. People of Puerto Rican origin make up 54 percent of Massachusetts’ Hispanic community, while 17 percent are of Dominican origin, 5 percent are of Mexican origin and 24 percent are of other Hispanic origin. This extraordinary diversity means there is no one “right” way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month – but that there are dozens of fascinating and creative options throughout our state.
Here are some fun ways to start celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in Rhode Island:
Find some fabulous food.
RI Latino Arts and RI Food Fights have teamed up this year to create a tasty itinerary. Participants will receive a “passport” with coupons for participating taquerias (taco eateries). Your passport entitles you to two free tacos at each stop. Compare taquerias and vote for your favorite! The current price for passports is $20 each, and you can join the fun by reserving and purchasing yours at this website.
Create a worry doll.
On September 15, take your family to the Rochambeau Library in Providence to create your own Guatemalan worry doll. Worry dolls are small, colorful dolls typically made in Guatemala. When you can’t sleep due to worries, simply tell your troubles to the doll, place it under your pillow and drift off. According to folklore, the doll does your worrying for you, so you can enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep. Worry doll craft time at the Rochambeau Library begins at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15.
Discover yarn art, shell jewelry and more.
Knight Memorial Library in Providence provides several opportunities throughout Hispanic Heritage Month for children to make crafts and learn more about the cultures that inspired them. Join the library on Thursday, September 17 at 3 p.m. for Mexican yarn art; on Thursday, September 24 at 3 p.m. to make Chilean-inspired shell jewelry; and on Thursday, October 1 at 3 p.m. to create a colorful Puerto Rican parrot bookmark. Registration is required. Call the library at 401-467-2625 ext. 2 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Bachata and barbecue at Washington Park Library.
On Thursday, September 17 from 5 to 7 p.m., the Washington Park Library will be hosting a Bachata BBQ Night. Bachata is a dance style that originated in the Dominican Republic, but is now popular all over the world. Come learn basic Bachata, pick up new moves or participate in the fusion of Bachata with other types of ballroom dance styles to create an art that’s all your own!
Learn more about Puerto Rican music and culture.
Join musician Lorena Garay at the Providence Children’s Museum on September 18 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. for a hands-on workshop to learn more about the musical traditions of Puerto Rico. All ages are encouraged to attend. Admission is free from 5 to 8 p.m. on September 18 so families can enjoy the event, explore the museum’s “Coming to Rhode Island” exhibit, and experience the museum’s recreation of a 1960s bodega owned by Josefina Rosario, a Dominican immigrant.
Providence is home to a lively Salsa scene with events all year round. Salsa Con Soul offers a dance portal to inform both seasoned and beginner dancers of local Salsa events. There is no better way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in Rhode Island.
At Marasco & Nesselbush, LLP, our law firm celebrates the extraordinary cultural diversity that abounds in Rhode Island’s communities, and we strive to support it in every way possible – including through our commitment to supporting the local Latino community and to helping Rhode Islanders with disabilities and personal injuries secure the benefits they need. Our office is bilingual and bicultural to serves the needs of all people living in our outstanding state. Contact our office today to learn more.