Hispanic Heritage Month Celebrates People of Many Countries
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
September 15, 2022
DIOCESE—National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, celebrates Hispanic-heritage peoples from numerous countries, people from the U.S., from our closest neighbors in Mexico to other Central and South American countries and the Caribbean as well as the European country of Spain.
The month is designed to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American champions who have inspired others to achieve success, says the national website. 
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 and ending on Oct. 15. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988. 
Why does it run from mid-September to mid-October? 
Sept. 15 is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30-day period.
The website: https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/ provides information about numerous events across the country, activities for all ages and recognition of some of the contributions of Hispanic Americans.
A long, somewhat hidden, part of U.S. history
Persons of Hispanic heritages have been present in the U.S. for centuries, including before parts of the south and west were within the boundaries of this country. 
According to a 2010 article by Ilan Stavans in Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, persons of mixed Spanish heritages, mestizos, “have left a mark in los Estados Unidos since the Christian misiones were established in Texas, California, and along the Pacific coast. 
“The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, coming after the Mexican-American War, transferred large portions of territory and the inhabitants in them from Mexican to U.S. hands. And the revolution of 1910, led by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, followed, sometime later, by the Bracero Program, increased the demographic presence of mestizos on this side of the divide.
“Nevertheless, awareness of a mestizo sensibility didn’t take hold in the U.S., at least in public discourse, until the Civil Rights era, when El Movimiento, the Chicano movement, stressed an essentialist collective conscience. … 
“Political activists and labor leaders like César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Reies López Tijerina, and Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales linked the Virgin of Guadalupe, the mixed genealogical and cultural background, and a sense of ethnic pride with a mestizo identity that was crystallizing as a mechanism of auto-determination. …
“The transformative power of the Latino minority, the largest and fastest-growing in our pluralistic United States, has had an effect on this debate …”
A history of faith
Hispanics brought the Catholic faith to the United States as early as the 16th century. It spread first through “the work of missionaries," according to the website of the United States Conference of Bishops, USCCB, which identifies those missionaries as Spaniards from Spain.
Over time, Hispanic peoples have, like many other ethnic groups, followed work opportunities to various states across the U.S., including to Illinois.
According to the website of Oxford Bibliographies (https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/), “the first documented Latino presence in Illinois dates to the early 1900s, with Mexicans and Puerto Ricans among the earliest Latino settlers. 
“The arrival of documented and undocumented Mexicans to the Midwest was characterized by the political and social turmoil of the Mexican Revolution and the heavy recruitment of American companies to fill industrial shortages caused by World War I, such as the railroads, meatpacking, steel production, and agriculture. 
“By the 1940s the Mexican population had grown in the outer suburbs of Chicago, such as Aurora, Joliet, and Blue Island, and in Gary, Indiana, on the shore of Lake Michigan. 
“Puerto Ricans immigrated to Illinois legally due to their status as US citizens mandated by the Jones Act of 1917. Many of them immigrated to Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs. The Bracero Program, designed to bring temporary workers to various industries throughout the United States encouraged a large influx of Mexicans to Illinois during World War II. …
“The Cuban Revolution also led to thousands of refugees from Cuba, who arrived in Illinois beginning in the 1960s, and by the 1980s various civil wars in Latin American countries pushed significant numbers of these populations to immigrate …
“Latinos are considered to be the driving demographic in the United States, and nearly half of the growth of Latinos in the Midwest between the late 1980s and late 2010s occurred in Illinois. …
“According to projections, the economy of the Midwest, and specifically Illinois, will increasingly depend on Latino youth. … 
“The impact of Latinos and their political influence will continue to grow over time, along with their impact on the workforce, which is why the growth of Latinos in Illinois is regarded as contributing to the regeneration of communities in the Midwest.”
Our Hispanic brothers and sisters are contributing to the regeneration of the Catholic Church of the Rockford Diocese as well. According to the Diocesan Planning Office, there are an estimated more than 400,000 Catholics in the diocese, and of those 42% are Hispanic. 
During Hispanic Heritage Month, The Observer plans to visit with a few diocesan Catholics of Hispanic heritage. 
Since Columbus set sail from Spain to eventually discover “the New World,” the interactions of cultures throughout the Americas have included successes and struggles. 
The Library of Congress introduces its “1492: An Ongoing Voyage” expedition, in part by noting, “The dramatic events following 1492 set the stage for numerous cultural interactions in the Americas which are still in progress — a complex and ongoing voyage.”
The Catholics of the Diocese of Rockford are part of that voyage, and hopes are that it will be enlightening to explore some individuals’ stories.
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