Dust off that Selena CD and put some croquetas in the deep fryer because it’s September and it’s time to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month — a month-long celebration of Latin Americans and their positive contributions to the United States. 

Sonia Sotomayor, whose roots are from Puerto Rico, became the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court justice in 2009. Juan Felipe Herrera, born in California to Mexican parents, in 2015 became the 21st United States Poet Laureate and the first Mexican American to hold the honorable title. Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association and became a household name for his activism and work in the community, was also of Mexican descent. The list is extensive and incredibly interesting, so for your reading pleasure here are some other notable Latinos: Frida Kahlo, Rita Hayworth, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ricky Martin, Julissa Arce, Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

What started as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 turned into National Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988, and has since been celebrated from September 15th to October 15th. The mid-month start date is intentional since five countries in Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) celebrate their independence on Sept. 15, Mexico on the 16th, and Chile the 18th. As for the rest of the days, it’s a time to celebrate the vast differences and similarities of the people who originate (or whose ancestors originated) from the over 30 countries that make up Latin America — including Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Spain. 

So, what’s there to do on National Hispanic Heritage Month anyway? Here are five ways to celebrate the contributions to American life people of Hispanic origin have made in our 243-year history. 

Educate yourself

What a better way to learn about another culture than to read a book or watch a documentary about that culture. Do a Google search on how Franklin Chang-Diaz was the first Latin American in space. Ask a friend who was born in another country about their traditions and customs and the interesting story of how they ended up in the states. (I basically won the lottery in 1995 when my mom and I were chosen to move to the U.S. through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, which opened to Cubans in 1994.) Learn about Alberto “Beto” Perez and how his passion for dance and exercise paved the way for Zumba. 

And did you know St. Augustine is the home to several great historical attractions with Latino influence including the Fountain of Youth, Castillo de San Marcos, Mission de Dios and Plaze de la Constitucion, Fort Mose, and the Colonial Quarter living museum.

Eat

Cesar Chavez once said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him … the people who give you their food give you their heart.” You can learn a ton about a person’s culture through their food. Rice and beans are a staple in any Cuban home, plantains in any form in the Dominican Republic, and arepas in Venezuela and Colombia. The nation’s oldest city has plenty of Hispanic restaurants to eat for, let’s say, “educational purposes” and this guided tour of taco spots in St. Augustine can help you get started 

Dance

Check out a (socially distanced) dance class in town. Salsa, merengue, rumba, and a slew of other classic Latin dances originated from, well, Latin countries. For the less classically inclined dancer, there’s reggaeton. Thanks to “Ritmo” (the remix of “Rhythm of the Night”) by Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin, I haven’t been able to stop shaking my hips all summer – at home, of course, and with the window shades drawn because this Cubana was not born to dance. 

Check out Hispanic artists

Frida Khalo is probably the most famous, or well known, Mexican artist. Her art and fascinating story have been admired by the entire world. In the movie “Frida,” where Kahlo was played by Selma Hayek, we got a glimpse into the artist’s at times tragic life. Khalo is one of the hundreds of artists who’ve made contributions to the American art scene. Perhaps some of the art galleries around town have some art on display by other Hispanic artists. 

Follow Latinos

Like on social media… not in real life. Get to know some of those notable Latin Americans who have paved the way for new generations of Latinos in the United States to do something for the common good. Follow artists, chefs, sports figures, journalists, activists, politicians, entrepreneurs, writers and show your support for their endeavors. 

Can you think of other ways to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month? Where are you from and how do you celebrate your culture? I’ll do my part by posting on my social media about someone every day for the duration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. 

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