Hispanic Heritage Month, A Guatemala Focus

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Every year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States on September 15 through October 15. During this time, Hispanic culture is highlighted and celebrated all throughout the country. The history of this month extends back to the 1960’s. It was created to give Hispanic people a time to celebrate their independence and to highlight the influence Hispanic cultures have on the U.S.

One Hispanic nation that has had a long history with the U.S. is Guatemala, a relationship spanning over 150 years. Guatemala is known for its rich and diverse culture that is a blend of indigenous Mayan values with Spanish influence. To maximize one’s celebration of this month, it is important to not only appreciate hispanic culture, but to also support Hispanic countries. By supporting Guatemalan nonprofits for example, its people are better able to thrive and continue passing on their culture to the next generation. 

What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

The history of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States extends back over 50 years. In June of 1968, George E. Brown, a California Congressman, proposed the idea of a National Hispanic Heritage Week. Later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan proposed the extension of this week into an entire month. In that same year, his proposition was passed into law, creating National Hispanic Heritage Month. During this month, Hispanic culture, history, and contributions are highlighted to show how influential Hispanic people have been in shaping U.S. history. 

Even though National Hispanic Heritage Month is widely celebrated in the United States, there are still many questions surrounding it. A common misconception is not knowing the definition of Hispanic and confusing latino(a) people with Hispanic people. A Hispanic person is either from a Spanish-speaking country or is a descendant of a person from a Spanish-speaking country. A latino(a) is a person from a Latin American country or is a descendent of a person from a Latin American country. Another typical question is regarding why National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 through October 15? September 15 marks the anniversary of several Latin American countries’ independence from Spain. The anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain is on September 16 . September 18 is the anniversary of Chile’s independence from Spain. Lastly, September 21 is the anniversary of Belize’s independence from Great Britain. 

girls dancing in the street
Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate both Hispanic culture and independence

Hispanic Heritage Facts

People of Hispanic heritage have impacted the United States’ culture considerably since the country’s conception. With over 62 million Hispanic people in the United States, Hispanic populations continue to dramatically influence U.S. culture.

What exactly is Hispanic heritage? Hispanic heritage encompasses the culture, life, and legacy of Hispanic nations within each Hispanic individual. Clothes, language, and even food are all examples of ways Hispanic people use their heritage in meaningful ways. 

Hispanic countries and the U.S. have not always had the best relations. From 1846-1848, the Mexican-American war was fought. This lead to the U.S. annexing Texas, a large territory of Mexico at the time. Later, in 1898, the Spanish-American war was fought. This lead to Cuba gaining independence, along with Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines being given to the United States. 

These various wars and annexations of territories have led to a large Hispanic population in America, greatly influencing U.S. culture. After English, Spanish is the most spoken language in the United States, with over 37 million speakers. Hispanic cuisine has also been adopted by much of the USA. Americans have begun to adapt traditional Hispanic foods into their dietary culture, such as tortillas, tacos, and guacamole. Hispanic cuisine is so commonplace, that fast food restaurants like Taco Bell and Chipotle have built million dollar empires with Hispanic dishes. In fact, tortilla chips and salsa have become one of the most popular snack foods in America. Finally, Hispanic culture has also greatly influenced American music. The creation of jazz, a unique style of American music, was partially attributed to hispanic influence.

man playing jazz
The creation of jazz music can be partly attributed to Hispanic influence in the United States

Guatemalan Heritage in the US

Guatemala and the United States have had a relationship since 1844 when the U.S. acknowledged Guatemala as an independent country. Things were peaceful between the two nations until 1954. In June of that year, the U.S. was beginning to worry about a communist regime taking control of the country. The CIA helped launch a coup in Guatemala, overthrowing the current President of the country, President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. This coup was successful and ended the Guatemalan revolution that lasted from 1944-1954. ​​Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas became the new president of Guatemala. He began to set into motion the actions that would lead to Guatemala’s 36 year long civil war. In the 1980’s during Guatemala’s civil war, the U.S increased aid to help protect against guerrilla attack and guerrilla warfare. 

Moving to the present day, Guatemala has become a major trade partner of the United States, the 43rd largest. Immigration from Guatemala to the United States has increased due to corruption, crime and violence and a lack of opportunities in the country. 

In the U.S., there are over 1.4 million Guatemalan people. Guatemalans account for 2% of the United States’ Hispanic population, the sixth most populous Hispanic identity. The Guatemalan population is the highest in California, where 29% live, Florida, where 8% live, and Texas, where 7% live.  

Guatemalan culture is a blend of Mayan and Spanish influence. Many people born in Guatemala are descendants of  indigenous people known as the Mayans. Settlers from Spain colonized the country and ruled over Guatemala for hundreds of years. As a result, Guatemala’s culture has become a blend of both Mayan and Spanish influences. This can be seen all throughout the country. For example, Guatemalan cuisine revolves around corn, chillies, and beans. Music in Guatemala favors percussion instruments, with the national instrument being a marimba. Also, many Guatemalan women continue to wear their traditional Mayan outfits which are bright and colorful. Nationally, the country is conservative in nature, which is especially true in regard to both gender equality and LGBTQIA+ representation. 

typical Guatemalan textiles
An Integral part of Guatemalan culture is the colorful clothing many women wear

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

There are as many ways to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month as there are Hispanic countries. Eating Hispanic cuisine, listening to Hispanic music, and appreciating Hispanic customs are good starting points. But what if there was something more?

Giving to Hispanic nonprofit organizations is one of the best ways to support Hispanic countries during Hispanic Heritage month. Guatemala is one of the least developed countries in Latin America. Almost half the population living below the poverty line. 

Supporting Guatemalan nonprofit organizations helps Guatemalans continue their legacy and culture that make National Hispanic Heritage Month so vibrant. Any contribution in time, effort or money to nonprofit organizations in Guatemala would support Hispanic people during National Hispanic Heritage Month. 

If you would like to support Guatemalan nonprofits, Pionero Philanthropy can point you in the right direction!

Pionero Philanthropy assesses nonprofit partners and provides analysis on how they perform in 5 key areas; Sustainability, Transparency, Efficiency, Impact and Need/Relevance. 

You can access Pionero Philanthropy’s interactive map and filter nonprofits operating in Guatemala according to rating, theme, region and more. Select the nonprofits that appeal to you and access their full reports! Pionero Philanthropy also provides consulting services to assist further in the matching process should donors require more support.