Reflecting on Evolving and Polylithic Identities During Hispanic Heritage Month

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month. While we never want to limit worthy celebrations to a singular month, or box in a vast number of diverse people to one category, the month gives us the opportunity to reflect upon what’s important to us, now, as a society. 

What is it and why does it start mid-month?

Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) recognizes the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans. It seeks to raise awareness of, and demonstrate that Hispanic norms are American norms. 

The mural “Reciprocity” was created on the Petaluma Bounty Farm grounds earlier this year by artist Rima Makaryan and a group of Koret Scholars from Sonoma State University.

The observation began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. (Read more at Rather than take place over a single month, Hispanic Heritage Month begins mid-September, coinciding with independence day celebrations of several Latin American countries.

From 1775 to 1825, the United States proudly supported anti-colonial movements, understanding them as inspired by, even as an extension of, its own struggle, according to the National Archives. Marking the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month on September 15 is a significant way of acknowledging a shared history. 

But how does it resonate now?

What does it mean to be Hispanic?

What does it mean to be Hispanic? Spoiler alert — it’s complicated and many people aren’t comfortable with that term. According to NBC New York, “While many people use Latino(a) and Hispanic interchangeably these two words mean different things. A Hispanic person is someone who comes from, or is a descendant of a Spanish-speaking country. Latino(a) is used when referring to someone who comes from Latin America, or is a descendant from any Latin American country. 

A person can be both Hispanic and Latino(a), but not all Latinos are Hispanic. Brazilians, for example, are Latinos, but their native language is not Spanish. Conversely, not all Hispanics are Latino(a). Spaniards are considered Hispanic, but not Latinos, since they are part of the European Union.”

According to a recent story in NPR, creating the umbrella term “Hispanic” left many people dissatisfied. It was a process driven by the census, and groups seeking accurate population counts sought to evolve the categorization of people of Hispanic or Latino descent beyond Mexican. “New groups were formed to tackle the problem, including the Census Bureau’s Spanish Origin Advisory Committee and a group of Spanish-speaking federal employees called the Ad Hoc Committee on Racial and Ethnic Definitions. Several options were floated including “Brown,” “Latin American,” “Latino” and “Hispanic.” At the time, Latino and Latin American were perceived as too foreign.

“Hispanic was never a term that everybody loved, but it was a term that got a lot of support from within Latinos in the Nixon [administration] and, later, the Ford administration,” sociologist Cristina Mora told NPR. The term was eventually added to the 1980 census.

Intersecting and evolving identities

Though still used as an umbrella term to define over 65 million people with origins from three continents and over 20 countries, the debate continues and reflects the complexity and evolution of identities for individuals, communities, and different generations. To be considered Hispanic or Latinex is a practice of living in intersecting identities. According to Wikipedia, Intersectionality means “an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.” 

An ongoing and important social discussion involves dynamic, evolving, and polylithic identities. Panelists in an event hosted by The Female Quotient dove into the complexity in an in-depth discussion that’s thought-provoking and inspiring. “So many of us are more than one thing,” and are so much more complex than the one-dimentional portrayal of Latinx community, they say. Watch the video at this link.     

We, at Petaluma Bounty, cannot say what it means to be Hispanic or Latinx. But we would like to celebrate and amplify what it means for folks in our community who claim Latinx or Hispanic heritage.

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