Updated: Sep 30, 2022
by Rosa Orellana
Fall is the best season, don’t you think? Along with the changing leaves, crisp air, and the smell of pumpkin spice lingering the air, the time between September 15 to October 15 is also Hispanic Heritage Month!
National Hispanic Heritage Month began as a commemorative week beginning on September 15, 1968. Why September 15? This date coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of five Central American nations—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18. In 1989, Hispanic Heritage Week was officially expanded to Hispanic Heritage Month by President Ronald Reagan.
I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and my parents are from Central America (Guatemala and El Salvador). My husband is from Mexico. Based on our experiences, we have seen firsthand how diverse traditions, food, music, and even Spanish accents can be depending on where your family is from. Growing up, I noticed that the foods I ate were a little different from my friends. For example, during Christmas, my grandmother would make Guatemalan tamales. They are different than the Mexican tamales that most people are familiar with. These tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and are much larger. One of these tamales is probably enough for a meal on its own. These are labor and time intensive, so much that we would have to get together, and all my aunts, my mom, my cousins, and I would help make them. It would take up half of the day, but it was all worth it! We spent time together as a family and enjoyed these tamales that we wouldn’t get to eat very often.
Traditionally, a family is very close in the Hispanic community. The family unit includes not only parents and children but also extended family. Good or long-time friends are treated like family and become part of the family. Family ties are strong, and living with relatives or even with friends of relatives is a common practice. Sometimes several generations of a family live together. Whether to maximize resources, help care for the elderly, provide childcare, or just because they value family culture, our family comes first.
When my husband and I first married, we lived with his parents. They got to see their grandson grow, and my mother-in-law would help babysit him while I was at work. While living together, I learned much about my husband’s traditions and family values. My mother-in-law and I would make dinner together, and this is where I learned how to make some of my husband’s favorite Mexican dishes!
Family gatherings or get-togethers are very important. There are times when we celebrate a special occasion or sometimes there is nothing special going on. However, we still get together to have a good time whenever we can.
An essential part of this is always the food! The norm in my family when we get together is carne asada or fajita. We serve it with frijoles charros or just refried beans, a side of rice, and Pico de Gallo with tortillas. Sometimes we make pupusas, known as the national dish in El Salvador. They are made of a corn tortilla and stuffed with beef or pork and then with cheese. Pupusas are served with fermented cabbage, including carrots, onions, spices, and garlic.
There are significant celebrations in Hispanic families: quinceañeras, weddings, graduations, and anniversaries! Friends and family are all invited to this special event. Food, music, and dancing are all critical for the party. When we greet each other, we give each other a hug or a light kiss on the cheek. In the Hispanic Community, this is still a common practice.
Birthdays are usually a big deal in my family. Even though we don’t always have a big party, we make time to get together and wish the best to the birthday person! The cake, candles, and food are a must. We take tons of pictures to have as a memory! One of our favorite cakes is tres leches or Tres leches with flan.
Most Hispanic families tend to teach their children Spanish to preserve their culture. My grandmother would tell us only to speak Spanish at home. They didn’t want us to forget our first language. Spanish has become popular across the United States, and I encourage my kids to continue to speak Spanish.
What makes Hispanic heritage unique is the distinctive cultures, language, cuisine, art, history, and traditions that form this larger community. We each have our own experiences. There is so much diversity to Celebrate within the Hispanic community!