Over eighty United States congressmen and women; Nobel Prize winners; Pulitzer Prize winners; Oscar winners; Tony award winners; not to mention countless key military figures and frontiersmen. These are just a handful of the achievements made by a multitude of Hispanic-Americans over the past two centuries. But it wasn’t until 1968 that President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a week in September as National Hispanic Heritage Week, which later broadened into National Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988.
Every 15th of September through the 15th of October, Hispanic-Americans are recognized for their leadership and pivotal roles in shaping our society. From the days of our country’s fight for freedom during the Revolutionary War to modern day mavericks who revolutionized the world of entertainment, Latinos have oftentimes been at the forefront of many breakthroughs:
- General Bernardo de Gálvez, who aided General George Washington during the Revolutionary War with a supply of arms, money, and other essentials.
- Post-Civil War, irrigation techniques, which were deemed necessary in America’s Western territories, were learned from Mexicans.
- Since the Revolutionary War, Hispanics have carried a proud tradition of serving in each war theUnited States has participated in, with thirty-eight Hispanics being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor throughout that time.
- The archetype of the cowboy—or vaqueros—from the Old West derived from Hispanic culture.
- César Chávez founded the United Farm Workers Union, which gave harvest workers the means to negotiate labor contracts with growers of produce.
- Famous Latino sports figures include: Roberto Clemente (baseball) , Lee Trevino(golf), Esteban Bellan (first Hispanic major league baseball player), and Nancy Lopez (golf).
- In the world of entertainment, Cuban band leader and producer Desi Arnaz (I Love Lucy) pioneered the “three camera” technique for filming a TV sit-com that became the industry’s standard.
- Rita Moreno, the first Hispanic (and second ever) to win an Oscar (West Side Story), a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy (for guest hosting The Muppet Show).
And the list goes on…. As clearly evident, Hispanic-Americans have not only helped lay the foundation for our country, but have played active architects in every facet of its design, both practically and recreationally. Through ingenuity, innovation, and an unyielding strive for independence, Hispanic-Americans have been the bellwethers and keystone figures in our past and present who will undoubtedly serve as beacons to our nation’s future.