Sept. 15 marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. From now through Oct. 15, this period celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans with heritage from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Hispanic Americans have been integral to the prosperity of the United States and have left an indelible mark on U.S. culture. By the end of the 2010s, the Hispanic population had grown to 60.6 million, making it the largest ethnic minority in the country.
Hispanic Heritage Month started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week before it was expanded in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. Because Hispanic Heritage Month involves residents of many countries of origin, the observance can mean different things to different people. So, we asked a few TDS associates of Hispanic descent what it means to them—here’s what they said!
Rafael Curbelo, senior manager of Technology Integration
City/State: Verona, Wisconsin
Country(s) in which your family originates: We are originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? This month is all about honoring who we are and what our culture means to us. I truly believe the diaspora of Puerto Ricans around the world holds the cultural traits and traditions that make us who we are really close to our hearts (sometimes even more so than some folks living on the island 😊). We moved to Madison 12 years ago and celebrating and embracing our traditions really allows us to feel more at ease when we are feeling homesick.
I view this month as an opportunity for younger generations to really learn about the differences between Hispanic cultures. There has always been great emphasis on Mexican culture in the U.S., which makes total sense since it is the largest group of Hispanics living here (plus it is an amazing culture!). But it is important to understand the diversity in cultures that surround us and how each of them is uniquely beautiful. That is what I think is the real meaning behind the celebration of HHM.
How do you celebrate your heritage during this month? Celebrating our heritage is not only a monthly affair for us, it’s year-round. But if you have to ask about a specific thing we do then I can easily say, FOOD! I mean that is always a staple in any Latino/Hispanic household. We love our food and we love our music! Music is another thing that really allows us to celebrate our heritage, and it is present daily at our house. We love sharing these with friends and family. Good food and good music make a solid base for any great get-together!
What’s a favorite Hispanic restaurant or other spot you would recommend in your local area? Our kitchen for any Puerto Rican cuisine 😉 (we cook quite a bit). In Verona, we have been a bit spoiled with some really good Mexican restaurants (we have four). For me, La Penca is the best. For some good Puerto Rican food there is a food truck that usually parks downtown near the University of Wisconsin on West Dayton Street for lunch called El Wiscorican. And I have to agree with Luis (below), Caracas Empanadas is also great!
Wadih Naime, staff accountant
City/State: Maryville, Tennessee
Country(s) in which your family originates My parents (as well as I) were born in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? When we talk about HHM, we are celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. As the first of three brothers who came to the U.S. with only $3K in my pocket, this month (and to tell you the truth, every day of the year) gives us the opportunity to look back and recognize how blessed we are for the opportunities God and the U.S. have put on our path.
How do you celebrate your heritage during this month? I think this is a hard one to answer, because like I mentioned previously, HHM is not just a month, it’s a way of living. The way we speak, our foods, what we drink, our treats and traditions … so it is something that goes year-round 24/7 😊. To make a long answer short, I think I can say we spread it out through the year with traditional meals and celebrations.
What’s a favorite Hispanic restaurant or other spot you would recommend in your local area? I would say there’s no place like home ha-ha … but if I had to pick a place it would be in Algodeli in Tennessee and Mil Jugos in southern California.
Rosario Torres, senior project manager
City/State: Fitchburg, Wisconsin
Country(s) in which your family originates: My parents, siblings, and I were born in Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila, Mexico, but I am the only one living in the United States.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? It means a lot to me; it is a month to celebrate my heritage, my culture, and my nation in general. During this month, Mexicans celebrate el Grito de Independencia (Sept. 15, 1810), el Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day: Sept. 16, 1810), la Consumacion de la Independencia (Consummation of the Independence: Sept. 27, 1821), el Dia de la Raza/Descubrimiento de America (Columbus Day: Oct. 12, 1492), so it is time to remember the history of Mexico and appreciate everything we have today: our traditions, customs, food, music, behavior, and our Spanish language.
For all the immigrants with kids born in the United States, it is an opportunity to teach them about the history of Mexico and tell stories about how we would celebrate in Mexico, then try to continue the tradition here. We as Mexicans feel very proud of our culture and who we are, so we are always trying to pass that pride and those traditions to the new generations. Also this month, we look at all the people with Hispanic heritage who have lived in the United States and have made contributions to the development and history of this country; we recognize and celebrate their labor in this country.
How do you celebrate your heritage during this month? This is how we celebrate in Mexico:
- We start the celebration on Sept. 15 with el Grito de Independencia, it is usually a formal ceremony in the Main Plaza in every city of Mexico, hosted by the mayor of the city or the governor of the state which ends with a display of fireworks. After the ceremony, there are dances, reunions, and parties with traditional Mexican music and food and all the people will be wearing traditional customs. It is an evening to party.
- On Sept. 16, we celebrate the El Dia de la Independencia. The celebration starts with a parade in the morning that ends at the Main Plaza, then there is another ceremony, and after the ceremony, we go back to the dances, reunions, and parties with more food and music.
- On Sept. 27, the celebration is simpler: a ceremony in the schools and governmental offices, nothing huge.
- And on el Dia de la Raza (Oct. 12), we celebrate it with parades, usually kids age 4-10 dress like Christopher Columbus, make art, and create boats recognizing Columbus landed in America that day.
- This year in Madison, on Sept. 15 and 16, I am planning to have some Mexican dinner at home and watch el Grito on TV, then on Sept. 17, I am planning to go to the parade on Park Street and hopefully attend the Viva Mexico Festival at Breese Stevens Field, enjoy the music, and eat authentic Mexican Food.
What’s a favorite Hispanic restaurant or other spot you would recommend in your local area? I always say the smaller the restaurant, the more authentic it is. In Madison, I recommend Tienda Los Gemelos on Odana Road. The gorditas and tamales are delicious, also on Sundays they have carnitas! Another one that I like is “El Pastor” on Park Street—they have the most delicious tampiquena I have tasted in Madison.
Luis Chavez, lead software engineer
City/State: Verona, Wisconsin
Country(s) in which your family originates: I am originally from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Moved to the U.S. in 2001, first to Gainesville, Florida, and then to the Madison area in 2004.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you? To me, it is a time to think about the diversity that exists in this country. Acknowledge and recognize the contributions of the Hispanic community and the importance of a diverse society. To some like me, who was not raised here, it is also a time to be grateful for the opportunity this country has provided.
How do you celebrate your heritage during this month? We always talk about and discuss our heritage and roots with our kids, especially when they were younger, but particularly during this month, it is something that we do. We also are always looking for Hispanic events around the area and during this month there are always fun events to go to like festivals and dances.
What’s a favorite Hispanic restaurant or other spot you would recommend in your local area? Being from Venezuela I would have to recommend going to La Taguara, a Venezuelan restaurant in the Madison area that has two locations on the east side. We also enjoy two Venezuelan food carts, “Caracas Empanadas” and “Caracas Arepas,” which are usually around downtown.
My wife and I really like dancing and we really like to go to Latin bands’ events. If you have never done it, I would say this is something you have to do at least once in your life. Go there, have fun, move the skeleton, and I am pretty sure the next day you will be searching online for the next event to do it again 😊.