Heritage, ethnicity, traditions, culture, as much as some people may try to fight it, it does shape at least part of your identity and how you may view the world. Instead of challenging or hiding that part of one’s identity we encourage everyone to be proud of it, own it, and let it be part of who they are. From September 15th to October 15th every year is Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month, so it is time we celebrate and honor it together!
This month is set in place in order to recognize the many contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to this country’s history, heritage and culture. Being in the United States or from the United States, it is often easy to forget the rich history this country benefits from the existence of so many ethnicities. The United States is truly a melting pot of many cultures coming together, and each had and still has a profound effect on what this country is and how it operates. Hispanic and Latinos make up the largest minority group in the United States at 18% of the population. This is mostly a result of the Mexican-American War in the mid 1800s.
In August of 1988, the bill to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month was approved, and ever since September 15th to October 15th, it has been part of every year’s celebrations. These dates were chosen because September 15th is the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. And within the following week Mexico, Chile, and Belize also celebrated their independence days.
Exciting times like these call for education, celebrations, and plans to improve the lives of Hispanic and Latino people for future decades to come.
First off, it’s important to honor Latino and Hispanic people who have made huge steps for the culture in the past:
Sylvia Rivera, a mixed Venezuelan/Boricua trans woman, who was a hard working activist for the LGBT community. Thanks to her work, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was created, which works to guarantee that all people are free to self determine their gender identity.
Luis Miramontes, a Mexican man who invented oral contraceptive pills in 1951.
Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice in US history.
Isabel Peron, the first female president of Latin America - she took charge after her husband, the President of Argentina passed in the 1970s.
Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena, a Mexican electrical engineer who invented color television.
Maria Elena Salinas, a news anchor, who was the first woman to receive a lifetime achievement Emmy, and the longest female news anchor on US television.
Lleana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina to be in the US House of Representatives, which made her the first latina and the first Cuban-American woman in Congress.
Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in the world to go to space in 1993.
This list could go on and on, celebrating people who have made not only national, but international accomplishments which have most definitely changed the shape of the world. Unfortunately, these are not usually the names we are taught in the history books. There are many Latinos making history today as well which will be celebrated for years to come, like Geisha Williams, the CEO and President of PG&E, who is the first Latina to ever lead a Fortune 500 company.
These names aren’t brought up merely to write them in history, but to acknowledge the momentous efforts that so many Hispanic figures have shown the world. In today’s political climate, it is easy to say that ethnicity and heritage are not discussed in the brightest light, instead they are talked about in terms of fear and hopelessness. This month is about recognizing the importance of every Hispanic out there and letting them know they deserve to be proud of their heritage.
Hispanic and Latino cultures place a strong value on family. Most Hispanics and Latin American families are large and close-knit, with many generations living together and playing important roles in each others’ lives. The support system built within such tight-knit families and cultures is something so utterly important and beautiful to have, it creates an emphasis on obtaining a positive well-being not only for yourself, but the rest of your family. Which is why, when we discuss mental health in the Hispanic cultures, it is often dealt with as a family, or sometimes very much not dealt with.
Stigma plays a big role in mental health in parts of the Hispanic and Latino culture, knowing everyone is so close could either mean you have a lot of people you can talk to if you are diagnosed with a mental illness, or a lot of people who may judge and question you if you tell them you are struggling with a mental illness. This is hard, and creates some of the challenges in finding the correct mental health care.
Latinos are less likely to report mental illness and reach out for help. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs, fewer than one in 11 Hispanics with a mental illness contact a mental health specialist. Unfortunately, this isn’t because mental illness is not an obstacle in the Latino community. In fact, Latin American women struggle with depression and suicidal ideation at higher levels than their black and white counterparts.
These are unfortunate realities and one of the best things that can be done to help change these facts would be to simply discuss mental health. Doing this will help release the stigma around seeking help and acceptance of a mental illness. Within such close-knit families it is okay to have conversations that check up on each others' mental health, and should be encouraged for each generation. No one person is immune to mental illness.
There are many resources that pertain specifically to the Hispanic community. If you or your loved ones are feeling suicidal, never be afraid to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides support specifically for the Latino community, with Spanish classes and sessions.
Ayana and the Hispanic Community
Ayana was created to truly honor every part of someone’s identity. The goal is to provide anyone with assurance that they will feel understood. During Hispanic Heritage Month, and everyday, we are proud to have a staff of many Latino therapists who will be able to provide our Latinx patients with quality care while understanding their culture. We want everyone to know that being Latino or Hispanic is an important part of your identity that should never be left behind!