California history’s deep roots in Hispanic and Latinx culture

June 2, 2022

To celebrate the culture and contributions of the Hispanic population, then-president Ronald Reagan established National Hispanic Heritage Month on August 17, 1988. The month-long celebration commenced on the fifteenth of September, which marks the independence day for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and ended on Oct. 15. Mexico and Chile commemorate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.

“It’s an opportunity to do a spotlight on a culture and have a little bit more inclusivity,” Aguero-Esparza said, about the national holiday. “Wherever you are, in terms of the workplace or school, the value of these celebrations or focal points or spotlight is to create more visibility in recognizing cultures that are not as highlighted or not as mainstream.”

Wherever you are, in terms of the workplace or school, the value of these celebrations or focal points or spotlight is to create more visibility in recognizing cultures that are not as highlighted or not as mainstream

— Upper school art teacher Pilar Aguero-Esparza

The territory of California itself resided under Mexican rule until 1848, when Mexico surrendered California to the U.S. in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War. Almost 200 years later, the effects of Spanish ownership remain through prominent displays of Hispanic culture throughout the state. For instance, the Mexican Heritage Plaza, a center located in San Jose, organizes dance performances, music shows and cultural festivities. Restaurants such as Luna Mexican Kitchen, La Victoria and Mezcal draw crowds of various ethnicities through their doors to experience their wide variety of authentic dishes.

Throughout California history, notable Hispanic figures have left lasting legacies. Born in the Mayfield neighborhood of San Jose, César Chávez worked as a labor leader and civil rights activist who championed the rights of migrant workers. In honor of his work, Chávez received a town square dedicated to him titled “Plaza de César Chávez” in Downtown San Jose. Additionally, San Jose State University commemorates his achievements through the Arch of Dignity, Equality and Justice.

Since the 1980s, the Hispanic population in California has more than doubled, and currently 15.6 million people, or one in four individuals, identify as Latinx in California. In 2015, the Office of Historical Preservation published a history project titled “Latinos in the Twentieth Century California,” which highlights the influences, contributions and history of the Latinx community in California.

Hispanic culture pulses all over campus—in the lunchrooms, in the Spanish classrooms, in California. Latinx students and faculty engage with their culture through family gatherings, immersing themselves in Hispanic foods, and creating art that highlights their roots: Latinx students and faculty, though they remain under 2% of the school population, creates a rich culture, not only during National Hispanic Heritage Month and La Noche Cultural but all year round, in and outside of classes. “Let’s head over to Manzanita!” contains the history from which those lush manzana apples came, the stories that the Latinx community tells currently and the Hispanic food in the lunchrooms today—these parts of the school that makes up a shared identity.

“It’s important to recognize the contributions of minorities,” Tejada said. “Their presence here adds color and beauty to this country. It adds to the diversity of this country, and I think that’s beautiful. It’s not just about the language: it’s about the culture, and all we bring to this country.”

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