Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
An estimated 17% of the population of the US can be identified as Hispanic. Second only to English, Spanish is the most frequently spoken language in the US, spoken by 38 million Hispanic people and 2.6 million non-Hispanics. 13% of the US population speaks Spanish at home.
What strikes me most when I think of the contributions of Hispanic Americans is the people behind the success story. While not all Hispanics or Latinos are immigrants, many are, and they are courageous and self-sacrificing individuals who want a better life for themselves and their children.
The immigrants I know aren’t looking for a “free ride”; they’re looking for opportunities to work hard and make a new life, to invest in our country. Folks like Miguel and Maria, who worked in the fields in California; Jaime, a construction worker, and Silvia, a stay-home mom to four boys; Dominga, who picked berries in Washington — they’re all immigrants and now US citizens. And they’ve made sacrifices on behalf of their children.
They’ve sacrificed their homeland. Their language. Their own comfort. Their dignity. Despite limited English or strong accents, functional illiteracy in their native language, long hours at low-paying jobs, and living in impoverished neighborhoods, they’ve raised caring and considerate children who are bilingual, bicultural, well-rounded youth and young adults with bright futures ahead of them. They are our future.
As Christians, we are called to embrace the stranger. What might that look like in your community? Tutoring a student? Welcoming a Spanish-speaking family to your neighborhood? Teaching English? Helping someone study for the citizenship test? Incorporating children and youth from immigrant families into your church? Helping them with college admission paperwork or scholarship applications?
Many of us can think back to someone in our lives who has made a sacrifice or has helped us get to where we are today. Take a moment and give thanks, and then honor their gift to you by helping someone else.