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Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15–Oct. 15

Published: 10/3/2008

Hispanic Heritage Month began on Sept. 15, the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico declared its independence on Sept. 16 and Chile on Sept. 18.

Did you know?:

Common Words with Spanish Origins

Alligator: el lagarto, the lizard
Bronco: meaning wild or rough
Comrade: camarada, old Spanish for barracks, company or roommate
Patio: courtyard in Spanish
Renegade: renegado, deserter or outlaw
Savvy: saber, to know
Vamoose: vamos, let's go
Words with the same meaning in both languages include barracuda, mosquito, tobacco, and vanilla.

29 million is:
The number of U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak Spanish at home.

1.1 million is:
The number of Latino veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

Famous Hispanic Americans

Cesar Chavez, 1927–1993
Cesar Chavez won many rights for migrant farm workers in the western United States. Some states celebrate the date of his birth, March 31, as a holiday each year.

In 1962 Cesar founded the National Farm Workers Association, later to become the United Farm Workers, the UFW. He was joined by Dolores Huerta and the union was born. That same year, Richard Chavez designed the UFW Eagle and Cesar Chavez chose the black and red colors. Cesar Chavez told the story of the birth of the eagle. He asked Richard Chavez to design the flag, but Chavez could not make an eagle that he liked. Finally, he sketched one on a piece of brown wrapping paper. He then squared off the wing edges so that the eagle would be easier for union members to draw on the handmade red flags that would give courage to the farm workers with their own powerful symbol. Cesar Chavez made reference to the flag by stating, "A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride...When people see it they know it means dignity."

Antonia Novello, 1944–present
In 1990, President George Bush appointed Antonia Novello to be Surgeon General of the United States. She was both the first woman and the first Latin American to be appointed to this post. Although she never shrank from controversy, Dr. Novello was an unusually popular Surgeon General, winning special praise for her campaigns to address the health problems of America's young people, whom she called "a generation at risk."

After leaving office in 1993, Dr. Novello served UNICEF, the United Nations' children's health organization, as special representative for Health and Nutrition. In this capacity, she traveled the world from Peru to Nepal. Her historic career of service to public health continues. Since 1999, she has been Commissioner of Health for the state of New York.

Roberto Clemente, 1934–1972
Clemente was the first Hispanic voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, won the World Series in 1960 and 1971. In his first major league season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955, Clemente had a solid rookie season batting .255 with five homers and 47 runs batted in (RBIs). He built upon that foundation and batted .311 in his sophomore season. After that, Clemente hit above .300 for the next 12 seasons.
In his pro career, he got over 200 hits four times (1961, 1964, 1966 and 1967), hit over .350 three times (1961, 1967 and 1970), lead the league in batting four times and won 12 consecutive gold glove awards.

Ellen Ochoa, 1958–present
Ochoa was selected by NASA in January 1990. Dr. Ochoa is a veteran of three space flights. She has logged over 719 hours in space. Her most recent mission was a 10-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in May of 1999. 

Ellen Ochoa’s pre-doctoral work at Stanford University in electrical engineering led to the development of an optical system designed to detect imperfections in repeating patterns. This invention patented in 1987, can be used for quality control in the manufacturing of various intricate parts. Dr. Ochoa later patented an optical system which can be used to robotically manufacture goods or in robotic guiding systems. In all, Ochoa has received three patents, most recently one in 1990.

Educational Resources:
Latina and Latino Voices in Literature, for Children and Teenagers, Frances Ann Day, Heinemann, Publisher

16 Extraordinary Hispanic Americans, Nancy Lobb J. Weston WALCH, Publisher

The Hispanic 100, A Ranking of the Latino Men and Women Who Have Most Influenced American Thought and Culture, Himilce Novas, Citadel Press

Teaching Tolerance, Free information and teaching materials are available to educators. The most recent kit is The Story of Cesar Chavez and A Great Movement for Social Justice; it includes a 39-minute film on DVD and a teacher's guide with standards-based lesson plans (

This information offered by the Office of Equity and Diversity

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