Immigration is the heart of the American Dream — a dream built on the ideal of bringing together people from many cultures to share in a more equitable, free, and positive future. Every year, from September 15 to October 15, the U.S. celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month to honor the long history and many contributions of the Latino and Hispanic communities, and to look forward to future progress.
The History of National Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15 because that is the date of independence for Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Chile and Mexico also achieved their independence in the same week. The U.S. custom of taking time to celebrate, focus on and learn about Latino and Hispanic culture and heritage first began in 1968, when September 15 was proclaimed the start of National Hispanic Heritage Week. This week was later expanded into a month-long celebration 30 years later.
The Growing Influence of Hispanic Communities in New England
The role that Latino Americans have played in shaping New England cannot be understated. For example, in Boston specifically, Latino Americans have comprised approximately 92% of the city's population growth since 1980, according to Boston Indicators. It's therefore no surprise that they make up an increasingly large share of the local workforce.
However, it's important to clarify that Hispanic Americans are themselves a highly diverse population composed of many cultures. For instance, of the approximately 850,000 Latino Americans in Massachusetts, 42% have Puerto Rican heritage, but there are also numerous individuals with Dominican, Salvadoran, Colombian, and Mexican backgrounds. This diversity helps to strengthen our communities, including Massachusetts' 26 Gateway Cities, where much of the state's Hispanic population resides.
As noted by Boston Indicators, 77% of the city of Lawrence is Latino — the highest in the state — with cities such as Holyoke (50%), Springfield (42%), and Lynn (36%) also claiming high Latino populations. This continues into the New Hampshire area, too, where the Hispanic population has been booming over the past decade, with an increase of 48% between 2010 and 2019, according to Pew Research.
Even though Hispanic Americans are the future of New England, much still needs to be done to increase equity. Despite Massachusetts' increasing diversity, Black and Hispanic business owners still only claim 3% of businesses with employees, less than half the national average, according to WGBH. Meanwhile, as BostonPlans.org reports, 22% of adult Hispanic Americans living in Boston live at or above the federal poverty level, and 37% of the city's Hispanic adults have not attained a high school diploma.
The soaring cost of living in Massachusetts, combined with systemic inequities that have increasingly marginalized these communities, doesn't help. When it comes to specific groups, 46% of Boston's Puerto Ricans live in poverty, compared to 41% of Boston's Dominican population and 23% of Salvadorans. This is also the case in many of our Gateway Cities; for example, the Hispanic population of Lynn has a 19.38% poverty rate (compared to a statewide rate of 10.29%).
Uplifting Our Latino and Hispanic Neighbors
Locals looking to dedicate themselves further to the issue of upward mobility for Latinos can access many resources and get involved in different ways. The Latino Equity Fund is focused on raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities facing the Latino community, and is dedicated to correcting health and economic disparities in Latino and Hispanic populations. Run by local Latino leaders, the Fund forms connections with local government, business leaders, individual donors, and nonprofits to foster systemic change.
Conexión is an organization that addresses the need for Latino and Hispanic leadership by building connections and talent streams for young adults to find success. Additionally, there is the Foundation for Business Equity, which works to address the racial wealth gap by breaking down systemic barriers and building new pathways for success for Black and Latino businesses.
Education and awareness about these communities is another key step. For those looking to learn more about the culture and activities of New England's Hispanic populations, written and covered by Hispanic people, some recommended publications include El Planeta and El Mundo. For TV viewers, NBCUniversal's Boston affiliates — such as NECN and NBC10 Boston — are working to bring more bilingual and multicultural programming, featuring subject matter ranging from lifestyle to health to sports.
Now is the time to act. Building up the Latino and Hispanic populations who call New England home is building up the future of our shared community. In honoring National Hispanic Heritage Month, we remember the contributions that so many have made for the betterment of our culture and society. The month is an opportunity for us all to recognize these accomplishments and consider how we can further support the Hispanic and Latino communities in the years ahead.
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