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Hispanic Heritage Month


Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15, 2016 and ends on October 15, 2016.  For more on Hispanic Heritage month and facts and figures about the Hispanic population visit the Census Bureau.  This year neither CSWE nor NASW recognized the beginning of the observance of Hispanic Heritage Month.  It’s a glaring omission by the social work profession.  The profession missed an opportunity to shine a light on a complex and vibrant group that has encountered substantial oppression and contended with a wide array of social problems here in the US, and abroad in the various countries that are the demographic and cultural source for the Latino population in the US.

Hispanics vary in terms of such important characteristics as national origin, racial and ethnic identification, immigration status, language use and proficiency, place of residence, and socioeconomic status. Common elements of Hispanic identity include: the preponderance of Spanish-language use; similarity in socio-historical and geopolitical influences; the psychosocial influence of family origins, socialization, and personal feelings; and the geospatial context of barrio life.

The term Hispanic was first included in the 1970 census.  Latino was added the census form in 2000.  There are also labels that are not official categories of the census, but they are used by some Hispanics.  Towards the end of the 20thcentury the term Latin@ emerged as a short hand for Latina and Latino, the masculine and feminine forms of “Latin.”  Latinx is the newest term that has come into usage in an attempt to create a non-gendered label.  Post-modern/post-structural ideas about identity and the field of cultural studies influenced the crafting of both Latin@ and Latinx.  None of these terms, official or not, are universally accepted among Hispanics.

The complexity and diversity of the Hispanic population is reflected in the frustrations of the US Census.  Thus far, the census has asked separate questions regarding ethnicity and race and has not considered Hispanics to be a racial category.  But 42 percent of Hispanics chose to classify themselves as “some other race” in 1990, and roughly 37 percent chose to do so in 2010.  The Census Bureau plans to implement a new method for the 2020 census.  There will be a single question regarding ethnicity and race which will essentially treat Hispanics a racial category.  On September 30, 2016, the federal government issued a request for public comment on the proposed rule changes to federal racial and ethnic classifications, which also include a new category for Middle Eastern and North African.  For a discussion of the changes in racial and ethnic classification in the census visit the Pew Research Center.  If you would like to submit comments to the federal government regarding these changes visit

The social problems that Hispanics grapple with are no less complex than Hispanic identity.  For example, Hispanic communities tend to experience high rates of poverty and unemployment, and lower rates of educational attainment.  The difficulties Hispanic families contend with are sometimes compounded by stressors related to the immigrant experience.  One current and crucial problem is Hispanic student segregation in public schools.  Hispanic students in the US have been experiencing a long-term trend towards becoming the most segregated non-majority population in public schools across the country.  For more on this issue visit the Huffington Post and the Urban Institute.

Larger-scale, global issues also affect Hispanics in the US.  For example, two current events have attracted much attention from the media in the US and abroad: the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico and the recent peace accord referendum in Colombia.

Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic group in the US and Puerto Rico is a US territory.  The Puerto Rican fiscal crisis has led to a downward spiral in the social and economic conditions of the island and a surge in out-migration stateside.  For more details about Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis visit the New York Times.  The US Congress passed the Puerto Rican Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act on June 29, 2016 and it was signed by President Obama.  Some critics argue that the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board that is now managing Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis is an autocratic and paternalistic exercise of US power.  The board met for the first time last month in the Wall Street district, which some saw as a clear sign of financial interests taking precedence over Puerto Rico’s social well-being and welfare.  Other critics have noted the striking parallels to Emergency Financial Control Board established by New York State to manage New York City’s financial crisis in the 1970s, which some argue handed over control of the city to the financial sector.  For more on the role of the Emergency Financial Control Board in New York City’s financial crisis in the 1970s visit The Nation.  As the New York Times explains, Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis has substantial implications well beyond Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican community.

Colombia has been engaged in a civil war for over 50 years.  As with many civil wars, the destructiveness has fallen hardest on the civilian population.  One of the consequences has been out-migration from Colombia to other countries including the US.  On September 26, 2016, the Colombian government signed a peace accord with the largest rebel group.  See the New York Times for more details about the peace accord.  On October 2, 2016, approval of the peace accord was put to a referendum and failed to garner approval.  For more details about the referendum, consult the New York Times.  Coverage of the referendum has tended to underscore that there was substantial public sentiment that the rebels were not being called to account for their actions in the war.  However, as with most wars, matters are hardly one sided; the Colombian military and state-supported paramilitary groups have also acted with almost total impunity.  Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have noted this.  As documented by Amnesty International, Colombia is one of the largest recipients of US military aid.  The US government and its foreign policy have played a central role in Latin American politics, and often to the detriment of human rights and social justice.  A prime example of this has been the activities of the School of the Americas (SOA), or its rebranded version, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.  For decades, human rights and anti-war have protested against the SOA. For more on SOA visit Truth-Out,  SOAW  and Democracy Now.

These are just a few examples of how the Hispanic experience is profoundly related to debates about race and ethnicity in the US, issues related to public schooling and segregation, economic and social development, and grave concerns regarding human rights and social justice. These certainly sound like matters that the social work profession shouldn’t be silent about.

More from Dr. Acevedo

(Photo Credit: Tom Stoelker)

Gregory Acevedo, PhD
Associate Professor 
Fordham University  
Graduate School of Social Service 
113 West 60th Street 
New York, NY 10023


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