September 16th â€“ or 16 de septiembre â€“ is Mexicoâ€™s
Independence Day. Here at home, it is the official kickoff to Hispanic Heritage
Month. Hispanics are an important and growing part of this multicultural mosaic
known as the United States of America.
Whatever our background and culture, we should embrace and
appreciate it. My own cultural heritage is Hispanic, though I often get asked
whether Iâ€™m Italian or Portuguese.
Sometimes, people call the office to ask my ethnicity. Ethnicity can be
controversial â€“ but I believe the cultures, traditions and backgrounds of our
parents and grandparents make us who we are.
Sometimes people ask, “What is the significance of Hispanic
Heritage Month?â€ I enjoy explaining why we celebrate it over two months (Sept.
15 â€“ Oct. 15) and what exactly it entails. The Hispanic Heritage Month website,
summarizes it as follows:
“The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records
Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art,
National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans
who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.â€
The observation of Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968
under President Lyndon Johnson. It originally began as Hispanic Heritage Week
but was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period
starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on
August 17, 1988.
As a kid in West Texas, views of Hispanics â€“ and
opportunities for Hispanics â€“ were limited. Looking back, it's hard to believe
that anyone ever advocated for things like segregated schools. The prevailing
sentiments of those days have changed, but it took courageous people to change
them. I use these 30 days to highlight those who broke the doors down and created
opportunities for younger Hispanics. They set an example for others to follow.
People like Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez who served for 38
years in the House of Representatives and was a founding member of the
Congressional Hispanic Caucus;
Dr. Hector P. Garcia, who founded the American G.I. Forum as
a place where Hispanic veterans could join together as one voice to advocate
for their fellow service members; or Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia
Sotomayor, who grew up in the projects of the Bronx, getting by with her family
through her late fatherâ€™s Social Security pension.
The list goes on. And, there are many who deserve
recognition. I'll be highlighting a few of these individuals over the course of
the next few weeks. I invite you to visit my Facebook and Twitter pages as I
take to social media to underscore the contributions of some talented, yet
courageous people. You can access those pages by visiting
My hope is that, through these posts and Tweets, we can
remember and relive the sacrifices and successes of the many Hispanics, Latinos
and Latinas, who came before us. They are our people. Our traditions. Our way
of life. They are our story.
Iâ€™m proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Congressional
Resolution honoring and celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. We must honor our
communityâ€™s past. At the same time, we must reaffirm our dedication to
improving our nation for the next generation of Americans, Latino and
Hispanics are now about 17 percent of the countryâ€™s
population. By 2050, Latinos will make up almost 30 percent of the countryâ€™s
population. And though we celebrate our heritage, we must also address the
issues that disproportionately impact our families. Disparities in health,
education, economic opportunity, voting rights â€“ these are all issues that
affect Latinos and their ability to achieve the American Dream.
I came to Congress to find common ground and fight for ALL
families across the 23rd District and Texas and that includes the unique needs
of the Latino community.
I never really met any Latino doctors, lawyers, architects
or engineers as a kid growing up in Alpine. The first Hispanic lawyer I ever
met was my sister. Today, I see a country that is more diverse, unique and
complete. It is truly a country of great opportunity and potential for all.
The future is bright for America and the entire Hispanic
community. I see it everyday. And, everyday, I am even more proud to be an
Enjoy Hispanic Heritage Month. To learn more about it, visit
For more information on U.S. Rep. Gallego, visit
www.gallego.house.gov. Learn more about U.S. Rep. Gallego by liking his Facebook
page or by following him on Twitter.
U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego, D-Alpine, represents
the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in
southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House
Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.