Latinx Heritage Month

By Jennifer Mendez

What is Latinx (or Hispanic) Heritage Month? Each year, Americans observe National Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Source: National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM)

The observance started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988 (Public Law 100-402). 

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30-day period.

Did you know? According to a recent article from CNN:

  • Latinx people are the largest minority in the United States.
  • There are 62M Latinx people in the United States, comprising 18.7% of the population.
  • In 2020, Latinx people made up 11% of the electorate, compared to 8% in 2018 and 10% in 2016.
  • Nearly a quarter of Latinx in the U.S. self-identify as Afro-Latino.
  • The term Latinx has emerged in recent years as a gender-neutral alternative to the pan-ethnic terms Latino, Latina, and Hispanic.

For more information, please read Hispanics in the US – Fast Facts.

Latinos – Beyond Entertainment

When celebrating Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s easy to default to recognizing Latinos in the spotlight. While I love the stories of Celia Cruz, Rita Moreno, Jennifer Lopez, and Lin Manuel Miranda, Latinos’ contributions to society go way beyond the entertainment sphere. Latinos have penetrated every aspect of society, made significant contributions, and broken substantial barriers. As such, I want to take a moment to celebrate just a few of the Latinx figures that have made noteworthy contributions to libraries:

José Alberto Gutiérrez was a garbage collector in Bogota, Colombia, when he came across a copy of Anna Karenina in the trash.  He began salvaging books from garbage bins in the wealthier neighborhoods of Columbia nearly 20 years ago. Over the years, the unwanted books began to pile up, and now the main level of his small house has been converted into a community library with approximately 20,000 books stacked to the ceiling. They range from textbooks found in schools to children’s classics and provide a sanctuary for children that may not otherwise have access to reading materials. 

You can read more about his inspiring story in Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built.

Dr. Camila Alire was the first Latina President of the American Library Association. She served in that capacity from 2009 to 2010. Prior to that role, she was the President of REFORMA, a non-profit affiliated with ALA, which was formed in 1971 to promote library services to Latinos.

She was appointed by President Obama to the National Council on the Humanities, where she served from 2013-2018. In June 2019, Dr. Alire was recipient of the Elizabeth Martinez (librarian) Lifetime Achievement Award (LAA) by REFORMA. The award recognizes individuals that have achieved excellence in librarianship over an extended period of service (20+ years) and who have made significant and lasting contributions to REFORMA, as well as to the Latino and Spanish-speaking communities. 

Pura Belpré (February 2, 1899 – July 1, 1982) was a writer, collector of folktales, puppeteer, and the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. 

In 1925 she began her formal studies in the Library School of the New York Public Library. She immediately became an advocate for Spanish-speaking communities when she implemented bilingual story hours, purchased Spanish language books, and initiated programs based on holidays celebrated by Latin American and Spanish-speaking countries, such as Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day). Through Belpré’s work, the 115th Street branch, which she was transferred to in 1929 due to the growing local Puerto Rican population, became an important cultural center for the Latino residents of New York. The branch even went on to host important Latin American figures, such as Diego Rivera, the Mexican muralist. Belpré continued these efforts at the 110th street (or Aguilar) branch when she relocated there.

Belpré died on July 1, 1982, but not before receiving the New York Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture.

And, finally, this post would not be complete without a special shout-out to:

Lizette Lopez Garcia was a librarian at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Law School. In 2004, during a meeting with the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Diversity Committee, of which she was a member, she asked a simple question, “Why isn’t there a Latino Caucus of AALL?” That simple, yet loaded, question turned into an animated discussion on the law-lib discussion board. Shortly thereafter, Liz was involved in developing a Statement of Purpose for the group, deciding on a name, planning a meeting, and holding elections, which resulted in Raquel Ortiz of Boston University being elected as the first chair of the caucus. What started as the Hispanic Caucus in 2005 and has since rebranded as the Latinx Caucus would not have been possible without Lizette’s dedication, and AALL is a better organization because of it and its diverse population that comprise several caucuses across the organization.


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.