This week marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, a monthlong celebration running from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 designed to honor the cultures and contributions of Hispanic and Latinx individuals across the United States. The observance begins on Sept. 15 to honor the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. (Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence the following day on Sept. 16.)
Hispanic Heritage Week began in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was later expanded to a month by president Ronald Reagan in 1988 thanks to the efforts of many, including U.S. Air Force Col. Gil Coronado. A Texas native, Coronado grew up on the west side of San Antonio and, at the age of 16, decided to enlist in the Air Force. He completed tours in Thailand, Panama, Germany and Spain before finally retiring from the service in 1989 with over 35 awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star. An ardent believer in the importance of Hispanic heritage and awareness, Coronado has worked throughout his life to promote those efforts and to learn as much as he possibly could about where he and his ancestors came from, telling his college alma mater, Our Lady of the Lake University’s alumni magazine: “I have visited every country in Central and South America. I was out of the United States for half my career.”
Looking back at Hispanic Heritage Month, 33 years after its historic passing, Coronado is still amazed he was able to help in its creation. The arduous project took nearly three years of lobbying and support before a bill recommending its passage finally made its way before Congress. “It was extremely slow tracking the first 90 or so votes,” Coronado remembers. “And then all of a sudden, it was like a sonic boom and we hit our goal of 218, and then flew way past that.”
For Coronado, one of the biggest moments of his life actually came after the bill passed; on Aug. 8, 1988, Congressman Esteban Torres, (D-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called him. “Representative Torres was on the other line and he invited me to be present at the formal Congressional introduction of the bill extending Hispanic Heritage Week to a Month,” Coronado recalled. A few weeks later, Coronado was also invited to a Rose Garden celebration at the White House where President Reagan officially signed the law creating Hispanic Heritage Month.
During the signing ceremony, Reagan introduced the stunned Air Force veteran to the crowd, saying: “I’m honored to welcome Colonel Gil Coronado. Due to his efforts, we’re not just here to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Week but to announce that in 1989 the period between September 15th and October 15th will be Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s an honor well-deserved. And you can thank Colonel Coronado, who’s been a stout defender of his Hispanic heritage and the United States of America. You know, Gil has so many medals and awards on his chest I’m amazed he can still stand up straight.”
It’s a moment Coronado vowed never to forget. “I still have the pen that President Reagan used and also a copy of the President’s remarks on that occasion,” he said.
The Importance of Hispanic Heritage Month
For many Hispanic and Latinx individuals, whether in the business world or just personally, the 30-day observance provides a welcome chance to reflect on a cultural past that isn’t always fully embraced with the U.S. It’s also a reason to look back at the trailblazers who paved the way for our rich and vibrant Hispanic and Latinx culture, as well as a means to bring recognition to individuals who are leading that movement today. With an estimated 60 million individuals living in the country currently, and that number expected to double by 2060, the Hispanic and Latinx community is one of the bedrocks of American life and a population truly worth celebrating.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is a time of reflection as we celebrate the path that has been illuminated by generations that came before us, and the rich culture and traditions we have the privilege of carrying on. As an advocate, it is also a time to re-energize and draw on the strength of our ancestors to continue the fight for equity and recognition for the contributions Hispanics make to the American tapestry. As we face these unprecedented health, financial and social crises in the United States, there is no better time than Hispanic Heritage Month to truly recognize how essential Hispanics are to the foundation of our beloved country.”
—Amy L. Hinojosa, President and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization
“I am proud that my family taught me to love my culture, our language, our food, our music and our sports. Leading by example as immigrants, my parents taught me to work hard, be a lifelong learner, adapt to changing circumstances and help others and that is what I strive to do each day personally and professionally.
—Raquel “Rocky” Egusquiza, Executive Director of the Miami Marlins Foundation
“Hispanic Heritage Month is a recognition of my worth as an American and my Mexican ancestry. I used to try to blend in early in my career but HHM allows me to be proud and be myself! God bless America and God bless our Hispanic community!
—Victor Arias, Managing Director and Partner at DiversifiedSearch