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The Daily Tar Heel

Hispanic heritage month: An American celebration

Did you know that in 1822 Joseph Marion Hernández of Florida became the first Hispanic elected to the U.S. Congress?

In 1962 Rita Moreno became the first Latina to win an Oscar for her performance as Anita in the classic musical West
Side Story and Luis Walter Alvarez won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1968 for discovering subatomic particles.

This week marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a 30-day period honoring the independence of seven Latin American countries. The holiday began as a week in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and later extended to a full month under President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

But this month, we celebrate something different than what Johnson or Reagan could have imagined. In today’s America, Latinos are the largest ethnic minority group, at 15 percent of the entire U.S. population. Roughly one-fourth of children entering kindergarten this year are Latino, according to USA Today. Latin radio accounts for 10 percent of the entire radio audience and Alex Rodriguez is the highest paid player in MLB history.

Ever been in the “Hispanic” aisle at the supermarket to buy Goya beans or flour tortillas? Couldn’t get into that Spanish class this semester?

The Hispanic Heritage Month we’re living in is one that is truly historic. That’s because we are all living it together. There is no denying the impact of Latino culture on America or the contributions of Latinos to the continued success of our nation.

We must remember that this month is about all Americans — how we’ve benefitted from one another’s presence and how we’ve played a role in building and sustaining our great country. We all felt hurt on 9/11, and we all feel pride on July 4th.

Join us in a campus-wide celebration of what it means to be a multicultural institution. This year during Hispanic Heritage Month, let us celebrate comunidad; community built and sustained by all of us, above all, as Tar Heels.

Visit for event info.

Ron Bilbao is a Guest Columnist for The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior Political Science major from Miami, FL. Email him at

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