The achievements and contributions of Latinos to the United States are endless, and Hispanic Heritage Month honors these accomplishments across not one, but two months giving you lots of time to help your kids understand its significance. Here's how.

By Wanda Medina
September 17, 2020
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If your home is anything like ours, Disney's Coco has been on heavy rotation on our streaming lineup since its debut three years ago. As Latinos, my kids Auggie, 8, and Luca, 5, were astonished to see their language and culture reflected on a big screen. While our Hispanic heritage is Puerto Rican and Cuban—not Mexican like the family in Coco —the mere mention of a chancleta (slipper) in a Disney film had them beaming with pride. That pride is something that gets nurtured year-round in our home, but for one whole month in the fall, it gets turned up a notch.

Credit: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty Images (1)

Whether you're Latino like us or a non-Latino household, learning about Hispanic Heritage Month will benefit your entire family.

What Is Hispanic Heritage Month?

Like Black History month in February, Women's History Month in March, and LGBTQ Pride throughout June, National Hispanic Heritage Month educates, celebrates, and honors the contributions of an often underrepresented and marginalized group of people. In this case, American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America: U.S. Hispanics.

When Is Hispanic Heritage Month?

Hispanic Heritage Month is unique as it doesn't start and end within the same month. Instead, it starts on September 15 to honor the independence days of several Latin American countries and ends on October 15.

On September 17, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Hispanic Heritage Week bill, stating in part that it "wishes to pay special tribute to the Hispanic tradition, and having in mind the fact that our five Central American neighbors celebrate their Independence Day on the fifteenth of September and the Republic of Mexico on the sixteenth." Twenty years later, in 1988 President Ronald Reagan passed a law expanding the week to an entire month.

Why It's Important

By now, you've likely seen #representationmatters across your social media feeds—and there's no way around it: representation does matter. One in four kids in the United States is of Hispanic origin, which means that your kids are very likely to be surrounded by children whose rich culture and diverse origins are frequently overlooked. For Latino kids, a month devoted to the contributions their ancestors have made to American society can reap enormous benefits. After all, research shows that a lack of representation in media, for example, can lead to negative psychological results for individuals whose identities are under or mis-represented. So, when kids have a strong sense of cultural self, from language to traditions to the impact their heritage has had on society, they feel seen.

But the benefits of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month don't stop with Hispanic children. Teaching any child about other people's cultures allows them to respect and celebrate the differences in all people and builds essential skills like critical thinking and problem solving.

How to Celebrate with Kids

Forget about having a formal conversation around the family dinner table about the impact of Hispanics on American society. Instead, use casual, everyday moments and activities this month to celebrate our heritage. Story time and iPad hour both provide the perfect atmosphere to immerse your family in our history, culture, and language! Here are some easy ideas to get your started:

Books to Read Together

One of the go-to learning resources in our home is the Who Was book series. This is a perfect start for readers in grades 3 and up, as engaging and informative biographies on famous Hispanics like artist Frida Kahlo, baseball legend Roberto Clemente, activist Cesar Chavez, Tejano music star Selena and Justice Sonia Sotomayor will help kids understand the power of Hispanic trailblazers. For younger readers, Lil' Libros board books offer fun and colorful details on the lives of other Hispanic idols like Salsa queen Celia Cruz and the iconic comedian, Cantinflas.

Spanish Language Lessons

Learning or brushing up on Spanish is another fun and easy way to appreciate our culture throughout the month. The app, Endless Spanish, features adorable characters and vibrant graphics that help kids pick up common phrases. Kids ages 4 will love the interactive puzzles that help bring Spanish words to life while Endless monsters demonstrate meaning and context! (Available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play).

Movies to Watch

If family movie nights are your thing, commit to choosing one or two movies this month that center around Hispanic culture. The Book of Life and Coco offer a gorgeous introduction to time-honored cultural traditions and are a great lead-up to Dia de los Muertos, which follows Hispanic Heritage Month at the beginning of November.

Foods to Try

Food is another great way to foster an appreciation and understanding during this time. This month, switch up your dinner menu so Taco Tuesday isn't the only night connecting you to Hispanic Heritage. I love Allrecipes' World Cuisine section for quick and easy recipes from Mexico and Spain like flan, tortillas Españolas (Spanish omelette) and carnitas. You can also mix it up by experimenting with meals from other Latin American countries with a cookbook like A Taste of Latin American: Culinary Traditions and Classic Recipes from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico & Venezuela.

Games to Play

Finally, turn up game night with a new twist on lotería, the traditional Mexican bingo game. From the creative geniuses who brought us Lil'Libros comes Lil'Lotería, a modified, kid-friendly version of the classic pastime that includes vibrant images with their corresponding words in English and Spanish.

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