Celebrating Our Heritages, Histories and Cultures
In the United States, cultural celebrations matter greatly because they help better explain the stories and histories of each ethnic culture. These cultural celebrations provide the opportunity to recognize the complexities and richness of each cultural identity. It is important to understand and appreciate these stories within the greater American narrative.
Heritage and History Month celebrations are important in providing the space to teach and learn about cultural history, and also to examine the way in which these cultures are viewed within American discourse. It is important to celebrate cultural heritages and to examine how these groups are continually oppressed and marginalized in society.
We should look more closely at how we view groups and subgroups in this country, and what place they have at the table. We must explore the important questions: How are we learning about heritage and culture? How do we interact with people that have different heritages and cultures from our own?
SEPTEMBER: National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15)
Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) takes place September 15 to October 15 every year as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the American Latino community.
Beginning in 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month was originally observed as “Hispanic Heritage Week”, but it was later extended to a month in 1988. Since then, HHM has been celebrated nationwide through festivals, art shows, conferences, community gatherings, and much more. The month also celebrates the independence days of several Latin American countries, including: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on September 15th, Mexico on September 16th, and Chile on September 18th. They also include holidays that recognize Hispanic contributions such as Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Day that is celebrated in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In his presidential proclamation on National Hispanic Heritage Month, President Joe Biden wrote:
“I have often said that America can be defined in one word: possibilities. The Hispanic community has always embodied that ideal. It lives in the dreams of those who have only just arrived here and in the legacy of families who have been here for centuries. Latinos have helped chart America’s course since our start — as doctors and engineers; artists and entrepreneurs; and leaders in science, business, labor, government, and military and across grassroots movements. Their faith and drive have pushed our country to grow, prosper, and pursue its highest ideals.”
OCTOBER: National Italian American Heritage Month
Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month is celebrated by proclamation of the President and Congress in the United States to honor the achievements and contributions of Italian immigrants and their descendants living in the United States, particularly in the arts, science, and culture.
This proclamation was led by the Italian senator Tate Downs. Events are held throughout the month to celebrate and educate the public about Italian-American history and culture.
It was first celebrated in 1989. The heritage month is in October to coincide with Columbus Day, the American national holiday traditionally celebrated on October 12, now celebrated on the second Monday in October.
NOVEMBER: National Native American Heritage Month
What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose.
The year before this proclamation was issued, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House. There is no record, however, of such a national day being proclaimed.
The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.
DECEMBER: International Day of Persons with Disabilities
The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
Building on many decades of UN’s work in the field of disability, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006, has further advanced the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other international development frameworks, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, the New Urban Agenda, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.
FEBRUARY: Black History Month
Black History Month was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
By the time of the celebration's founder's, Carter G. Woodson's, death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life, and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
MARCH: National Women's History Month
Women's History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.”
Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”
Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month.
Since 1995, presidents have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.” These proclamations celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.
MAY: Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
In 1977, a Congressional resolution proposed that the President should “proclaim a week, which is to include the seventh and tenth of the month, during the first ten days in May of 1979 as ‘Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.’”
This joint resolution was passed by the House and then the Senate and was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978 to become Public Law 95-419. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
JUNE: Gay and Lesbian Pride Month
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.
In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as "Gay Pride Day," but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the "day" soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events.
Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTQ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.
The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.
June 19, 2021 marks the 156th anniversary of the last African American slaves being freed in Texas. This year, President Biden signed into law Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, S. 475, creating a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth. This is the first federal holiday approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. This, however was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January, 1863. This day, the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has become a day for African Americans to celebrate not only their freedom, but their history, culture and achievements.
In his presidential proclamation on Juneteenth Day, President Joseph Biden wrote:
"On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility. That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all."