National Hispanic Heritage Month

By Nerissa Moran, Spanish Language Selector

I identify as Anglo-American, but have always enjoyed working with Spanish-speaking librarians. I’ve always been fascinated by celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month at the public libraries where I’ve helped with collection development, searching out titles appropriate for their patrons—especially at the annual book fairs in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of people living in the U.S. whose ancestry can be traced back to Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

The observation began in Sept 1968 when Congress authorized President Lyndon Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week, an observance that included the dates of Sept 15 and 16 (the anniversaries of independence for several Latin American countries). In 1988, Congress expanded the observance to a month-long (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) celebration. The year 2020 marks the 52nd anniversary of this recognition of Hispanic culture and traditions, innovations, achievements, leaders, and artists.

As the World Public Library says, “National Hispanic Heritage Month is the period from September 15 to October 15 in the United States when people recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino American to the United State and celebrate the group’s heritage and culture.” Read more about it on the official site.

Celebrations can look different in diverse parts of the country, from Miami and New York—which have large Cuban-American and Puerto Rican populations—to Fresno or San Jose in California and Maricopa County in Arizona—home to many first-, second-, and third-generation Mexican-Americans.

On the west coast, where I’ve spent most of my time, San Francisco Public Library introduced VIVA! last year, a city-wide celebration of Latino/Hispanic cultures. Celebrations took place in all 28 branches, with papel picado (paper streamers), flores de papel (paper flowers), and ofrendas (altars) setting the scene for more than 100 events with music, food, film, dance, crafts, and author talks representing Latino Hispanic cultures.

The highlights for me were story book readings and Mexican mask-making. Children’s author Mitali Perkins read “Between Us and Abuela” with the kids at Bernal Branch. West Portal Branch hosted children’s author Aida Salazar (“The Moon Within”). Skeleton craft was demonstrated for Dia de los Muertos. And the mask-making workshops, which the library did in conjunction with the Mexican Museum, were a hit at various branches.

Many librarians find it important to participate in this celebration because it helps them reach more people in their communities. According to the Pew Research Center, almost a fifth of the total U.S. population is Hispanic—over 57 million people—and they are the second-fastest growing racial or ethnic group behind Asians. The Hispanic/Latino population was once concentrated most heavily in certain regions, like the Southwest, or certain cities, like Miami, San Francisco, and New York. Now, however, this population is distributed throughout the U.S.  Besides reaching more people with library events and bringing more people into the library environment, this kind of outreach helps people cultivate an understanding of and appreciation for each other’s cultures.

This year, with Covid-19 infiltrating our communities, we probably won’t have many opportunities to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month via displays and in-person gatherings. There is still a great selection of books available, though. San Francisco, for example, has curbside pickup at the Excelsior and main branches, where you can check out books by wonderful YA authors like Newberry Award-winner Matt de la Pena. Other Hispanic American authors of note include Sandra Cisneros, Stephanie Diaz, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Margarita Engle, Kiera Cass, and Benjamin Alire Saenz, among others.

LA Public’s Central Library will host a live stream of Peruvian music this year on Sept 17 at 4 p.m. PT, featuring songs and rhythms from Inca, Criollo, and Afro-Peruvian extraction on ethnic woodwinds, strings, and percussion instruments. The downside is that there are no gatherings inside the library.  The upside is that public libraries are still making celebrations like this one available to all!

My most fervent hope for the moment is that we can resume in-person programs inside libraries soon, to experience Hispanic Heritage Month and Day of the Dead celebrations. I look forward to the return of not just the displays and social functions on special occasions, but also the myriad interpersonal exchanges associated with library services that are so important for adults and children alike. How are you celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this year?

Nerissa’s passion for all things literary was evident from a young age, when she corralled a younger brother to play Horton in her “production” of Horton Hatches an Egg. Nerissa now enjoys the privilege of working remotely and starting each day practicing yoga on the deck at home in the redwoods. Read more here.

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