Marcia Alesan Dawkins, PhD
Sr. Research Scientist & Founding Co-Lead of Center for Creative Leadership’s Latinx & Hispanic ERG
Latinx & Hispanic Heritage Month plays a complicated role in present-day U.S. society. Research reveals the Latinx population as the largest minority group in the U.S., and the second fastest growing. This month (and every month) we take time to honor and recognize the Latinx community: a wide-spanning, endlessly nuanced population who reimagines and reshapes leadership, arts, advocacy, language, and all facets of American culture in the face of consistent discrimination and xenophobia.
First, some history. Hispanic Heritage Month (which now also goes by Latinx Heritage Month) began as “Hispanic Heritage Week” when 20 congressmen introduced it as a joint resolution in 1968. The initial resolution states the purpose is “to recognize, cherish, and conserve the many cultural contributions of the people who have helped achieve the greatness of our Nation.” President Johnson issued a proclamation formalizing the celebration week, which later became a month-long honor thanks to efforts of California Congressman Esteban Torres in 1988. Latinx & Hispanic Heritage Month now takes place from September 15th – October 15th. This timespan coincides with Independence Day for eight Latin countries.
Next, why this month matters. Because representation matters. Change and challenge matter. As we celebrate the presence and creative contributions our community makes, we must acknowledge Latinx and Hispanic Americans face unique challenges, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing. For instance, even as Latinx and Hispanic Americans are likely to live an average of 1.3 years longer than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are generally in poorer health: CDC data shows that in 2022 approximately 16 percent of Latinx and Hispanic adults were in fair or poor health, compared to 13.5 percent of non-Hispanic white adults. Latinx and Hispanic health is shaped by several factors , including language and cultural barriers, lack of access to preventative care, and lack of health insurance. People who lack access to quality healthcare are less likely to receive preventative care and more likely to have chronic health conditions and die prematurely.
So, what can we do? We can start by being as transparent about our challenges as we are about our change-making. At the Center for Creative Leadership, we engage this polarity with our theme: “Unidad en la Diversidad,” or “Unity in Diversity.” We believe this concept captures the essence of our community. We come from different countries and backgrounds, speak languages like Spanish, English, Portuguese, Yucatec Maya, Quechua, Nahuatl, and many others. We have unique cultural traditions and expressions. Yet we are united by a common heritage and shared values. Diversity enriches us all and is one of our greatest strengths. Benefitting from diversity requires creating the conditions to overcome its challenges.
Join us in learning how. You can listen to our curated playlist called Unidos y Diversos, featuring popular Hispanic and Latinx musical artists. Music leads by bringing people together through rhythm and melody to highlight challenge and change. You can watch our LinkedIn Live conversation Thursday, October 12, 2023 at 11:30am Eastern Time, focused on developing inclusive leaders, featuring Hispanic voices discussing challenges and change-making across various backgrounds and industries. You can support the community economically and socially. Click on this resource map highlighting Hispanic and Latinx-owned small businesses, creators, and community organizations addressing challenges and making change. You can savor visual art by North Carolina Heritage Award Winner, Cornelio Campos, depicting the theme of unity within diversity as it relates to leadership. Art sparks change and leads the way to new futures in which we can overcome the challenges we face.
Like colorful threads woven together, our differences make the global tapestry richer and more vibrant. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month is about inclusion, not exclusion. Unity, not division. When we take time to understand, appreciate, and celebrate Hispanic and Latinx communities, we build mutual understanding and respect among all cultural groups. We show our shared humanity and common future bind us together. We partner with The Carol Emmott Foundation as we inspire leaders to act at individual and system levels. The challenges faced by Latinx communities require courageous leaders to take compassionate action. Let’s champion connection, community, and care and carry the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month all year long. We can make it happen with courageous empathy, active listening, and bold conversation.
I leave you with the words of Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, President of the Academy of American Poets. We celebrate this time as “an honor // para nosotres/for us // and an expanding definition of whom an us could be, with an open and generous heart // we will be here.” United and diverse.
¡Nos deseo a todos un feliz Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana!