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Hispanic Link News Service

Hispanic Heritage Celebrations Follow Migrants Across the U.S.


September 10, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Hispanic Link News Service. All Rights Reserved.

Cultural celebrations, national conventions and other events hosted by Latino organizations and mainstream corporate and government entities are scheduled across the country during the millennial celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15.

Events highlighting the contributions and influence of 35 million Latinos in the United States can be found in abundance in places like New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C.

But in places beyond such metropolitan centers -- where new communities are exploding because of job opportunities, immigration and migration -- commemorations and fiestas also abound.

In the unlikely states of Arkansas, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, Nebraska and Tennessee, the Latino population more than doubled in the past decade, according to census data released Aug. 30. In Arkansas, it jumped from 19,876 to 53,729, a 170 percent increase. Michigan, whose residents elected two Latinos to the state House of Representatives in 1998, is now home to 276,000 Latinos, a jump of 75,000 over the total in 1990.

When Democratic State Rep. Belda Garza of Detroit entered the legislature, she and Republican state Rep. Valde García joined forces to draw statewide attention to the growing Latino community and celebrate its contributions.

``I saw how the state's black caucus celebrated African-American History Month with a celebration at the state capitol, and I wanted to do the same,'' says Garza. ``I talked to Valde Garcí and other community leaders and we created the Hispanic Heritage Month awards event.'' The ceremony, now in its second year, honors Latino contributions in business, arts, education and community activities.

Michigan will kick off a month of statewide events with its annual celebration of the ``Grito de Dolores'' -- when Father Manuel Hidalgo claimed Mexico's freedom from Spain -- at midnight on Sept. 15.

The Arlington, Va.-based Newseum, an interactive museum of news created by The Freedom Forum, is also boosting awareness of Latino contributions in the media. For four consecutive weekends, the Newseum will offer Latino-themed programming, beginning Sept. 16 with a day of family activities centered on the tradition of oral storytelling.

"One of the major focuses of The Freedom Forum is diversity and looking at how all segments of society are reflected in the media,'' says Rich Foster, its director of programming. ``We want to highlight how the media cover Latinos and their contributions to journalism.''

Its events include "Inside Media'' forums featuring journalists with national followings, such as Juan González, John Quiñones, Victoria Corderi and María Hinojosa, plus Robert García, vice president of CNN Radio. They will discuss their careers and current projects.

In Utah -- where 151,000 Latinos now line, up from 85,000 just a decade years ago -- Hispanic heritage celebrations began at the end of August. The state hosted its fifth annual Utah Hispanic American Festival, which included a Latino film showcase and numerous cultural events. A youth leadership conference is scheduled for Sept. 14 and 15.

``The events give us the opportunity to expose the positive aspects of our culture and show the diversity of the state,'' says Leticia Medina, director of the Utah Office of Hispanic Affairs. The state has had a rich influx of residents from countries such as Mexico, Peru, Cuba and Venezuela during the past decade, she says.

Medina adds that with the enlarged Latino presence, the community is confronted with several critical issues, such as a growing dropout rate, bilingual education reform and pending English-only legislation.

These are issues presidential candidates Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush are sure to address during Hispanic Heritage Month events across the country.

Gore plans to address the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Sept. 20 gala dinner in the nation's capital. The $500-a-plate event annually attracts 2,000 Latino movers-and-shakers from throughout the nation. He will also speak at the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute conference in Chicago at the end of the month. Tipper Gore will pitch in by attending the black-tie National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts gala in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19.

Bush also plans some appearances connected to the heritage celebrations. Most of them will be confirmed this week. ``(The campaign) is still making arrangements for the governor's schedule,'' says Republican National Committee Deputy Press Secretary Leslie Sánchez. ``What he will attend will depend on where in the country he is.''

Thirty-two years ago, on Sept. 17, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed a law designating the week including Sept. 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week. At that time, the U.S. Latino population, excluding Puerto Rico, was less than 9 million.

Twenty years later, on Aug. 17, 1988, Congress approved a joint resolution to expand the celebration into a monthlong observance, as the Latino population reached 19 million.

Last week's Census Bureau projection placed the population at 31.3 million. That's in addition to 3.9 million living in the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Nine Latino countries celebrate their independence or national holidays during Hispanic Heritage Month: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua (Sept. 15); Mexico (Sept. 16); Chile (Sept. 18); and Bolivia and Spain (Oct. 12).

Cynthia L. Orosco is a correspondent with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. She may be contacted at

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