Our country is a melting pot of influential cultures

Dear Colleagues,

How many times have you heard a rhythm that made you want to dance even though you may not know the song? Or perhaps you tasted a dish bursting with flavor that makes you wonder how all these flavors got into one bite? Maybe you have heard someone speaking a foreign language and thought to yourself how that sounds romantic or beautiful but couldn鈥檛 pinpoint its origin.

Why am I asking these questions? It helps us realize that the influences of other countries and cultures are all around us. The U.S. is truly a melting pot of cultures, including music, language, religion and food. Learning about other cultures expands our perspective of the world and deepens our understanding and empathy for the experiences of others. Understanding cultural differences can also make us better coworkers. 

This month’s blog focuses on the cultures of Latinos and Hispanics. The Latinx/Hispanic culture has played an influential role in our society for decades. (The 鈥渪鈥 in Latinx is not a typo). 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic or Latino population of 62.1 million people made up 19% of the U.S. population in 2020. It鈥檚 no wonder that Hispanic influences are tightly woven into the fabric of our lives 鈥 think music, food, art, cinema, politics, literature and so much more. 

Sept. 15 鈥 Oct. 15 is Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month, an annual celebration of the history and culture of the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic communities. It commemorates how Hispanic and Latinx communities have influenced American society at large and recognizes the achievements and contributions that have inspired others. 

Started in 1968 by Congress as Hispanic Heritage Week, it was expanded to a monthlong celebration in 1988. The celebration begins in the middle rather than the start of September to coincide with the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They celebrate their national Independence Day on Sept. 15, followed by Mexico on Sept. 16, Chile on Sept. 18 and Belize on Sept. 21. Columbus Day (also known as Dia de la Raza) on Oct. 12 recognizes the anniversary of when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas.

What does it mean when we ask about ethnicity if an individual is of Latino or Hispanic descent?  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanic or Latino is a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin. The term Hispanic or Latino (or the most recent term Latinx) refers to a person鈥檚 culture or origin 鈥 regardless of race. 

Who is considered Hispanic in the U.S.? 

The most common approach to answering these questions is straightforward: Who is Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren鈥檛. Pew Research Center, the U.S. Census Bureau, and most other research organizations that conduct public opinion surveys use this approach. It relies entirely on self-reporting and lets each person identify as Hispanic or not.

Some have drawn sharp distinctions between Latino and Hispanics, saying that Hispanics are people from Spain or from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America (excluding Brazil where Portuguese is the official language), while Latinos are people from Latin America regardless of language (this includes Brazil, but excludes Spain and Portugal). Despite this debate, the Hispanic and Latino labels are not universally embraced by the populations, even as they are widely used.

The word Latinx originated in the mid-2000s. The 鈥榵鈥 does not imply a specific gender – as would the 鈥榦鈥 (masculine) or the 鈥榓鈥 (feminine) for nouns in Spanish. The term Latinx relates to people of Latin American origin or descent and is used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina. Latinx has been mainly adopted by members of the LGBTQIA+ community who may not want to be identified by a specific gender. The term became more prominent in 2016 after the mass shooting at Pulse, the LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Although I was only able to speak with a few of our Latinx Hispanic coworkers, here are a few things they wish we knew about Latinx and Hispanics: 

  • Not all Hispanic/Latinx culture is the same. The Hispanic population in the U.S. is multiethnic. 
  • There are no specific facial features to determine that someone is Hispanic.
  • Preserving their language is of utmost importance to Hispanics. 
  • The Hispanic family is close-knit. Extended families are considered a part of the actual family unit.
  • Mealtime and enjoying the family鈥檚 traditional dishes together is very important.

Let us celebrate and acknowledge the Hispanic and Latinx heritage in our organization and the communities we serve. The United States would not be what it is today without their presence in our lives.

And do not forget to smile every day and say hello to your coworkers and the people we serve. It will brighten their day!

Alexies Samonte, M.D., MBA, FAAP (She/Her)
Vice President
Sponsoring Institution Diversity, Equity and Inclusion