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Many Backgrounds, Many Stories…One American Spirit

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The following is a guest post by Francisco Macías, Senior Legal Information Analyst.

In the United States, National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 15 to October 15.  This month is set aside each year to recognize and honor the countless Hispanic Americans whose cultural legacy has enriched our country and our society. The commemoration of Hispanic Heritage originated during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration as a week-long celebration and was subsequently made a month-long celebration during the Reagan administration in 1988 by Public Law 100-402.  According to President Barack Obama’s proclamation, this year’s theme is “Renewing the American Dream.”

To celebrate the occasion this year, The Hispanic Cultural Society of the Library of Congress hosted a program on September 29 to draw attention to the contribution made by people who are Hispanic, Latino, or Chicano, or self-identify as such. On September 29, 2011, Dr. Mark Hugo López, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center, was the guest speaker at the event that is part of the Library’s 2011 Hispanic Heritage Month Program. The Pew Hispanic Center, founded in 2001, is a nonpartisan “fact tank” that “seeks to improve understandings of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on the nation.”

Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, delivered the opening remarks. In his address, he reminisced about his professional experiences in conjunction with the Hispanic world. He highlighted the Library’s “world-class collection to study the history and culture of the Hispanic past in the United States” and several Hispanic displays of the Library of Congress, including the Jay I. Kislak Collection:  The Cultures & History of the Americas. He also mentioned “many Hispanic/Latino writers in the Library’s collection, such as:  Rudolfo Anaya, Ana Castillo, Luis Rafael Sánchez, and Esmeralda Santiago” who was present at the National Book Festival this year, and “last year’s star attraction at the book festival…Isabel Allende.” He commented with great pride that the Library’s Spanish-language interface for the Hispanic Division’s Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS Online) website “is consulted more often than the English version.”

Dr. López’s presentation discussed the Pew Center’s statistical analysis, which was based on data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center’s own strategically launched surveys. His presentation focused on the Hispanic diaspora throughout the United States. He spoke thoroughly about the nuances concerning the terms Hispanic, Latino, and Chicano, among other identities.

Law Librarian of Congress Roberta I. Shaffer delivered the closing remarks. She noted that on the morning of the presentation, one of the major national newspapers featured a front-page story entitled “Hispanic kids the largest group of children living in poverty.” This story was based on a report prepared by Dr. López and his colleague Gabriel Velasco. She also commented on some interesting ornamental landmarks within the Library of Congress in particular, iconography of Pre-Hispanic Civilizations, namely Quetzalcoatl at the Adams Building east entrance, which was featured in Jennifer Harbster’s eponymous blog post. She expressed her lament for the death of Oscar Handlin, “the Harvard social historian who advocated the idea that immigration to America during the 19th Century was the defining experience of that time” and noted that Dr. Handlin’s “1941 dissertation broke new academic ground in its use of census data on race and ethnic origin.”  She also added that HLAS Online contained “laws from almost every active and ancient legal system including over 50 jurisdictions that share a Hispanic legal heritage.” She spoke of the “benefit of diversity” of the Library of Congress with “materials in over 240 languages.”  And she was happy to report that Hispanics were employed and represented in every one of the Library’s divisions.

The event closed with the launching of a new portal:  The National Hispanic Heritage Month. The new site is the product of a collaborative effort by the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The portal features the faces of many people of renown who are Hispanic and/or self-identify as Hispanic.

The legal community is also highlighting Hispanic heritage. This month’s ABA Journal features several anecdotal articles concerning Hispanic/Latino lawyers. One of them entitled “The Rise of the Latino Lawyer:  A New Study of Hispanics in the Legal Profession Reveals Inspiring Successes and Lingering Obstacles” written by María Chávez, PhD, was particularly moving. Not surprisingly, this article contains information provided by the Pew Hispanic Center succinctly addressing the issue of “Hispanic or Latino?” in a sidebar.

During this celebratory month, the Law Library of Congress would like to acknowledge the contributions of the Hispanics, Latinos, and Chicanos for their contribution to the development and continued success of the United States of America.

Our fellow blogs at the Library of Congress have also featured posts on Hispanic Heritage Month:  “Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Library of Congress Primary Sources” from Teaching with the Library of Congress and “Observing Hispanic Heritage Month” from Inside Adams.

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