The country celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15. It’s a month rooted in the Catholic faith.
Hispanic Heritage Month has begun in the United States. It’s a month rooted in the Catholic faith and the profound cultural influences from Spain and Latin America. Aleteia spoke with Arturo Cepeda, auxiliary bishop of Detroit and president of the Commission for Cultural Diversity in the Church; Mar Muñoz-Visoso, executive director of the Commission for Cultural Diversity in the Church; and Elizabeth Román, president of the National Hispanic Pastoral Council. Hispanic Catholics have special reasons to celebrate.
It was President Lyndon B. Johnson who, in 1968, began the Hispanic Heritage celebrations, although it started out as just one week; in 1989, the Reagan administration increased it to a whole month.
Since then, the country celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15. It is a month that celebrates the contribution of Hispanics to the United States in all fields: history, culture, economy, and art.
September 15 is significant because it’s the anniversary of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 (Grito de Dolores) and 18, respectively. Finally, the month closes just after October 12, Columbus Day, commemorating the European discovery of America. But significantly, October 12 is also the feast day of Spain’s patroness, Our Lady of the Pillar.
However, despite the various initiatives launched in the media, institutions, and universities, Hispanic Heritage Month is still far from being significant in popular culture. It even remains somewhat invisible in ecclesial environments, despite the fact that Hispanics, 19.5% of American society, already make up almost 50% of the country’s Catholic parishioners.
A visible heritage
“In this celebration, the most important thing is to present to the country what we are, our Hispanic heritage in the United States, and to celebrate our union as brothers and sisters in this society,” Bishop Arturo Cepeda, auxiliary bishop of Detroit and president of the Commission for Cultural Diversity in the Church, told Aleteia.
“Celebrating our heritage is essential for our new generations, and that’s why these celebrations are very meaningful for us, for our Church, and for our society, which also needs to learn and value what Hispanic Catholics bring to our country,” the prelate added.
For the executive director of the Commission for Cultural Diversity in the Church, Mar Muñoz-Visoso, Hispanic Heritage Month is “an opportunity to celebrate and show the public our religious and cultural traditions.”
“Few people know that Hispanics have been responsible for about 70% of the growth of the Catholic Church in the U.S. in the last 35-40 years. And that today, already more than 50% of all Catholics in the U.S. under the age of 18 are Latinos, the vast majority born and raised here,” Muñoz explains. “In many states and cities there are folklore festivals, culinary festivals, cultural activities, conferences and ‘Masses of the people’ celebrated outdoors and in shrines across the country. Celebrations begin in September commemorating the national independence holidays of many Latin American countries and end in October around Día de la Raza, as it is called in Mexico (Columbus Day in other places), celebrating our common roots and cultural identity. Among us there have been, and are, great artists, doctors, scientists, athletes, public servants, and business people. It’s time to celebrate them!”
Catholicism came to the United States through Spaniards, long before the 13 colonies even existed. And it has not left since then, as the descendants of those Spaniards continued to live in Florida, California and New Mexico, even when the borders changed. This is pointed out to us by Elisabeth Román, president of the National Hispanic Pastoral Council.
But how can we celebrate Columbus Day when Christopher Columbus has become a “politically incorrect” figure and his statues are being torn down all over the continent? “This is painful for us,” Román explains. “We’re trying to judge the past with today’s values. How will they judge us in the future? We Hispanic Catholics believe in dialogue, in listening, in finding the bright side of things.“
The history of Hispanics in the U.S., says Mar Muñoz-Visoso, is “a great history that has yet to be known. The first evangelization, especially in the south and west of the United States, was carried out in Spanish and by missionaries from Spain, Mexico, and the Caribbean.”
The Spaniards “founded missions and towns and built chapels and churches. Their apostolic zeal led them to be very creative in order to spread the gospel message among the natives. The entire national territory, particularly in the south and west (Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California) is full of names of towns and villages and institutions that reflect the great legacy of the Hispanic and Latin American heritage in the country, both socially and ecclesiastically. The establishment of the missions gave rise to settlements that today are some of the great cities of the American West, and that still bear their names (San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, Santa Clara, San Antonio in Texas),” he adds.
But the Hispanic roots of the U.S. are not limited to the Spanish era, Mar points out: “After new frontiers were established, with the successive waves of migration from Latin America and the Caribbean to both large urban centers and rural areas, Catholics of Hispanic heritage have contributed much of our religious, ecclesiological and cultural heritage, and we have spread it throughout the national territory.”
Taking care of our roots
Is Hispanic culture in danger of being diluted in the United States? “As long as there are grandmothers, that faith and culture will be passed on. As long as our faith, language, and culture are rooted the way they are in the Hispanic and Latin American people, our young people, even if they don’t speak Spanish, are going to have that faith,” says Elisabeth Román.
This culture and these beliefs are transmitted in the family environment, in everyday life: in the way of cooking, in Marian devotion, in prayers.
“We have been here for many generations of Hispanics and you can still see these things in our young people; even if it’s a rosary, even if it’s a tattoo of the Virgin or a cross. These are expressions of faith that have not gone away and will never go away, because the roots of this country are Catholic and Hispanic,” affirms the president of the National Hispanic Pastoral Council.