September 15-October 15
National Hispanic Heritage Month starts on September 15 and runs through October 15. The special month celebrates Hispanic culture and Hispanic people’s contributions to United States history. The special month has its origins as “Hispanic Heritage Week,” which was first recognized by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan asked that the Week be expanded from the third week in September to September 15 through to October 15.
Hispanic Heritage Month organizers believed September 15 was important as the starting point because eight Latin American nations celebrate their independence days in the week starting on that date: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all celebrate their independence on September 15, while Mexico celebrates theirs on September 16, Chile celebrates theirs on September 18 and Belize earned their independence on September 21 (in 1981, becoming the most recent independent nation in Latin America).
The Hispanic demographic is the fastest-growing subgroup in the United States today. Over 55 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, identifies as Hispanic or Latino, which includes people of Spanish descent from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, regardless of race. 18% of Florida’s population is Hispanic: South Florida has the highest concentration of Cubans in the United States (at over 850,000) and Central Florida is home to a large number of Puerto Ricans (over a quarter-million Puerto Ricans live in the Orlando metro area).
There are many LGBT Hispanic people that have become known nationwide for their advocacy and celebrity. Here are profiles of three influential people:
- Orlando Cruz – A boxer originally from Puerto Rico, he jumped in the ring as a professional for the first time in 2000 and remained undefeated for the next nine years. He is currently ranked in the top five by the World Boxing Organization in the featherweight category. He came out to the public in 2012, famously sporting the Puerto Rican and rainbow flags on a kilt to show support for both communities.
- Guillermo Diaz– With over 20 years of acting experience, Díaz currently stars in the ABC suspense thriller Scanal, opposite Kerry Washington. Born to Cuban parents in New York City, he told Out Magazine that hiding his sexual orientation growing up helped him become a stronger actor. His biggest roles include the gay rights feature Stonewall (1995), as well as the films Half-Baked (1998) and 200 Cigaretes (1999).Recently he appeared with Britney Spears in her “IWannaGo”music video.
- Alex Sanchez – A writer, he moved to the United States at the age of five and wrote his first book while pursuing a degree at Old Dominion University in Virginia. His “Rainbow Boys” trilogy of books was recognized favorably by the American Library Association and his work let a generation of questioning youth know that their sexuality should not make them feel ashamed. His 2009 book “Bait” was given the Florida Book Award Gold Medal for Young Adult Fiction.
- José Julio Sarria – Sarria knew he was different from a young age. After serving in World War II, he became involved in the budding gay community in his hometown of San Francisco, where he was the target of multiple police raids. He unified businesses in San Francisco by creating the Tavern Guild, he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as the first openly gay man in the United States seeking public office, and he created one of the largest LGBT charitable organizations in the country, the Imperial Court System.
To read more about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit hispanicheritagemonth.gov.