A journey to appreciate Houston’s Hispanic Heritage begins at the Heritage Society in downtown, where a large mural facing the Sam Houston Park portrays people and events that shaped the Mexican American culture.
“We are going to take people on a journey from 1836, when the city was founded, all the way to present-day to celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month,” said R.W. McKinney riding an open-top, adapted school bus.
Aided with projections of black and white photos of early Mexican American settlers, audio of retro musical recordings and other features, McKinney said the journey will begin by understanding that “the land where you stand on now was once Mexico.”
McKinney is better known for Mister McKinney’s Historic Houston that operates the Houston History Bus.
At the Heritage Society Friday McKinney said while many people know that Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual observance in the United States, many others are not aware of its meaning or of the significance this culture has played locally and in the country.
Passed by Congress first as a week-long observance in 1968 and extended in 1988 to a month, the Hispanic heritage observances were proclaimed by two U.S. presidents from Texas: Lyndon B. Johnson and George H.W. Bush , respectively.
Congress chose the beginning of the observance every year on Sept. 15 to coincide with the celebration of Independence Days in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Mexico celebrates its independence on the 16th, Chile on the 18th and Belize on the 21st.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to acknowledge and honor the vibrant Latino culture living and growing in this land,” said Alex Lopez Negrete, owner of Lopez Negrete Communications, one of the largest Hispanic own marketing firms in the U.S. and headquartered in Houston. “It’s an opportunity to spotlight critical history and contributions of Latinos to the fabric of America.”
Hispanic and Latino are the two most accepted terms by people in the United States with heritage or ancestry from Spain or Latin American countries.
In most of the 33 countries south of the Rio Grande and the Caribbean, Spanish is the predominant or official language since they were colonized by Spaniards beginning in the 15th Century. A few Latin American countries, however, speak other languages, such as Portuguese in Brazil. But despite some language differences, Latin American countries share many cultural, ethnic, geopolitical and historical commonalities.
“We (Latinos) are a founding culture of this society, and we are increasingly the largest and growing demographic,” said Pamela Quiroz, a sociology professor at the University of Houston and director of its Center for Mexican American Studies.
The Hispanic population grew by 11.6 million people in the country from the previous decennial census, which represented 51 percent of the total population growth in the country in that period. The increase of Latinos was mostly driven by U.S.-born babies, according to Pew Research Center. In Texas, Hispanic residents increased more than in any other state. They now represent 39.3 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census data, which is almost equal to whites with 39.7 percent and to the population of Latinos California (39.4 percent).
As the largest racial or ethnic group in Houston and Harris County, with over 40 percent of the population, Latinos represent a major consumer and productive segment of society, Quiroz said.
A recent study from the UH Center for Mexican American Studies indicates that both foreign and native-born Hispanics in the Houston metropolitan area combine an economic impact of more than $980 million a year.
Latinos comprise 35 percent of the labor force in the metro area. However, that percentage rises significantly — to 62 percent— in areas such as construction, extraction and maintenance occupations. It is 47 percent for service occupations, and 45 percent for production and transportation, the study said. Many of those labor segments are “essential areas of the economy” that will be essential for the Houston region’s economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gabriela Sánchez-Soto, a visiting scholar who authored the study.
“Every day, not just this month, Latinos are at the center of building our future, raising our children, feeding our community, and healing our sick,” said López Negrete. He added that looking at the history of Texas, it’s inevitable to reflect about Latinos who “have been a part of labor history, science history, and music history with figures such as [labor activist] Emma Tenayuca, NASA [aerospace engineer] Diana Trujillo, and the legendary Selena Quintanilla.”
Tour operator McKinney said he cannot wait to show Houstonians the richness of the Latino culture and history in the city. Hispanic Heritage bus tours will take different routes, beginning Oct. 2, he said Friday. With him at the celebration Friday were the Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center High School Mariachi Band, the Mixto Ballet Folklórico, and leaders of the community such as former Houston Councilwoman Gracie Saenz, among others, were at the bus tours announcement and celebration Friday.
For McKinney, Hispanic Heritage Month is not just about Latinos but about Houston and Houstonians. “It’s about people who work hard and thrive and are tolerant and inclusive, similar to the story of the Anglo population, the black population here.”
Houston, with its diversity, “will continue to be the best city in the nation thanks in no small part to Mexican Americans and Hispanics,” he said.
“Houstonians don’t have to learn how to love each other and how to be inclusive and encompassing and welcoming,” he said. “We do that anyway.”
Written by: Olivia Tallet at firstname.lastname@example.org