National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 through October 15 as a way to honor and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and rich histories of the American Latino and Hispanic community.
We’re well into National Hispanic Heritage Month, but do you know the history of it or why it’s celebrated? And why does it start in the middle of September, when most monthly observances start on the first of the month? The mid-September start date is to honor the day that Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained independence.
Hispanic Heritage celebrations originated in 1968, introduced by U.S. Congressmen George E. Brown and Edward R. Roybal of Los Angeles, and Henry B. Gonzales. President Lyndon Johnson implemented it as week-long observance. Later, U.S. Rep. Esteban E. Torres suggested that it be expanded to a month. President George H.W. Bush declared the first National Hispanic Heritage Month in 1989.
“Not all of the contributions made by Hispanic Americans to our society are so visible or so widely celebrated, however. Hispanic Americans have enriched our nation beyond measure with the quiet strength of closely knit families and proud communities,” Bush said.
Is There a Difference Between Hispanic and Latino?
Although the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably, they actually have two different meanings. Hispanic refers to the descendants of Spanish-speaking populations or cultural groups who speak Spanish. Latino specifically refers to people that are from or descendants of people from Latin America.
In the United States, Hispanic and Latino identity is multifaceted. There is an incredible amount of racial and ethnic diversity amongst Hispanic and Latino populations. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are often used as racial identifiers. Some academics will cite this as being incorrect, although a majority of Hispanic and Latino people use it to describe their race. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies Hispanic as an ethnic origin as opposed to a race, yet two-thirds of Latinos identify being Hispanic as part of their racial background. A quarter of U.S. Hispanics identify as Afro-Latino, while others identify with their indigenous roots.
“There are different shades of brownness within the community,” says Efrain Baldiris Jr., an Account Manager with Insight Global. “Even if you do not actively involve yourself in Latin culture day to day, the way you show up for your community looks different for everyone.”
Many Hispanic and Latino people have intersectional identities and are members of multiple communities. It’s critical to know that Hispanics and Latinos aren’t a monolithic group.
“Grouping all Hispanic/Latino individuals as being monolithic is harmful to our identifies, as we are all unique and come from different cultures/backgrounds,” Baldiris continues. “It eliminates what makes us special: our different foods, value, music, and sazón [flavor].” If you want to know how someone identifies, it’s best to just ask them.
Edgar Escobar, a Lead Recruiter at Insight Global’s Miami office, observes that there’s an incredible amount of diversity within his workplace.
“We have individuals from all parts of the Hispanic community: Cuba, Colombia, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and more. The office in Miami is a melting pot.” Escobar says this makes for a “fun and safe workplace environment.”
Should Employers Use the Term “Latinx” To Be Inclusive?
The term “Latinx” has gained popularity in academic circles and in the LBTQIA+ community in recent years. Latinx is an alternative to gendered language such as Latina/o. It’s used primarily by Latinos who are non-binary or broadly as a gender-neutral term referring to those of Latin American descent.
While it may seem politically correct to apply it broadly in the workplace, the majority of Latinos don’t use this term and consider it to be a whitewashing of their identity and language. However, some nonbinary and/or transgender Latinx people prefer this term, saying that it sparks important conversations about gender and transphobia in the community. Again, if you want to know how someone would like to be identified, it’s best to ask them directly versus assuming or speaking for them.
Workplace Challenges and How Employers Can Overcome Them
Unfortunately, many Hispanic/Latino people still face challenges and discrimination in the workplace. Here are some important stats to know:
- A large majority (76%) of Latinos repress parts of their persona and identity at work
- More than half of Latinos (63%) do not feel included, invited to share their ideas, or do not feel that they are heard or valued at work
- Half of Hispanic adults say they or someone in their household has experienced a pay cut, job loss, or a layoff due to the pandemic
- 60% of Latino professionals aged 18-34 feel they’ve been overlooked or intentionally passed over for career advancement opportunities because of race
- Nearly half of Latino professionals have been subjected to discrimination and/or microaggressions in the workplace
- Almost three-quarters (73%) of Latinos aged 18-34 believe that skin tone can a barrier to career advancement More than half (65%) of darker-skinned Latinos feel they’ve been overlooked for career advancement
Because of these factors, there’s a high attrition rate for Hispanic/Latino employees, with significant numbers thinking about leaving their job because of a lack of recognition or advancement opportunities and a lack of representative leadership.
The Impact of Representation
Juliana Araque, an Immigration & Compliance Specialist from Insight Global’s Atlanta office, was born in Colombia and moved to the United States when she was 10.
“I came here with just my mom and left all of my family behind so we could start a new, more successful beginning,” she recalls. Araque recalls witnessing and experiencing discrimination in the workplace during high school and college, remembering how customers sometimes chastised workers for speaking Spanish among each other. “I would get comments on how we live in America and they should be speaking English, which was difficult to navigate as I myself had to learn English when I immigrated to the U.S.”
Araque remembers “constant bullying” at school “for having an accent” or not speaking English to her the liking of her peers. She’s also noticed stereotyping in the media’s portrayal of Colombia and Colombians, noting that Colombia is “known for the drug cartels” because of television and movies, but says Colombia is “a country filled with geographical beauty and amazing food, with some of the happiest people.
“You get to experience all different types of climates and landmarks, and each city has its own specific culture as far as food, accents, climate, and customs.”
Escobar has similar sentiments about how concerns about language barriers may create challenges in the workplace. Someone may be overlooked for a position or promotion because of concerns that they don’t have perfect English — even when many native English speakers don’t have perfect written or verbal communication skills. He says there are also fears about rapport building because of differences in upbringings and backgrounds or fears about celebrating and recognizing specific holidays.
Escobar says that he believes employers should focus on hiring individuals that come from less-prestigious backgrounds, saying, “Many individuals from our community do everything possible to be able to afford college and may come from a university that isn’t top-ranked or well-known.”
Representation in the workplace is important, especially in leadership. It can increase morale, lower attrition rates, and inspire others. “Representation means showing others who are like me what’s possible for them,” Escobar says. “If I’m able to inspire even one person, that could be life-changing for an entire family, as it was and has been for me and my family.”
“Representing two countries and both of my parents is something I do not forget when I get up in the morning and get ready for work.”
For Araque, representation is a feeling of belonging – and a learning opportunity. “Representation means that I’m not being left out. It means I belong. It feels great to bring something different to the table in terms of cultural background so that I can share with new friends and co-workers. I love that we are all so different and can learn from one another. It’s very special,” she says.
How Can Companies Celebrate Their Hispanic Heritage Month (and Beyond)?
There are many meaningful ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and keep the conversations and celebrations going year-round beyond having a stereotypical “Taco Tuesday” party at work. Here are a few suggestions:
- Ask your Hispanic and/or Latino employees how they’d like to be celebrated
- Play a National Hispanic Heritage Month trivia game
- Take on online tours of some of the beautiful countries in Latin America
- Put together care packages with gifts and treats from Latin-owned businesses
- Take a time out for a team movie break and watch a classic like Selena, Coco, West Side Story, or In the Heights
- Have peer-to-peer support and mentorship opportunities available
- Develop and listen to employee networking groups (At Insight Global, we call them ENRGs — employee network resource groups)
- Offer fun activities centered around cultural appreciation such as cooking classes, language lessons, or dance lessons
- Host a “Lunch and Learn” with cuisines from various Hispanic/Latino cultures while exploring relevant educational topics
- Start an office book club and read works by Hispanic/Latino authors, such as Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Sandra Cisneros, and others
- Get crafty and creative with these Hispanic Heritage Month crafts
- Donate to Hispanic/Latino advocacy organizations
It’s important that your Hispanic and Latino employees feel celebrated during this time, so be sure to get as much input from them as possible without putting the burden of planning on them, unless they’re volunteering! It’s also important to make sure that none of the activities you’re doing perpetuate harmful stereotypes, such as limiting celebrations to sombreros, tacos, and piñatas.
The Importance of Year-Round Inclusion
Cultivating a company culture where everyone is celebrated shouldn’t be limited to a month out of the year. Inclusion is important year-round. So is creating a safe workplace where people can bring their whole, authentic selves to work versus having a “worksona” (work persona). When people feel safe, they can flourish and grow.
Escobar has some tips on how to create an inclusive space beyond Hispanic Heritage Month:
- Continue to allow diversity of thought
- Recognizing the traditions, festivities or holidays that celebrate individual’s backgrounds
- Encourage a culture where everyone’s thoughts and ideas are respected, valued and heard
At Insight Global, our people agree that we celebrate our differences. One way we do that is through ENRG groups. The Hispanic and Latino ENRG group is called “La Familia.” Escobar says La Familia is “a community where we are encouraged to speak up about our upbringings and childhood experiences. We celebrate our various countries’ Independence Days, family beliefs, different foods, and more. Overall, since I’ve joined the group, I have felt a push to be comfortable with who I am and where I come from.”
“It is so great that at Insight Global we have networking groups where we can feel included, supported, and celebrated,” Araque says. “Knowing we are a minority that has a voice in the workplace is very powerful and can lead to an overall change in perspective across all employees from sharing our personal experiences and educating others on our culture and customs.”
Our Shared Values at Insight Global drive everything we do. We believe everyone matters and take care of each other so that we can be the light to the world around us. Insight Global is more than a staffing company. We empower people through economic opportunity and opportunity for upward economic mobility. We empower businesses to be industry leaders with healthy and thriving company cultures that champion inclusion and diversity through our Compass division.