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DEI September: Hispanic Heritage Month

The RISE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee invites you to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month during September, as this directly impacts the people we work with and care about.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins each year on Sept. 15, celebrates U.S. Latinos, their culture, and their history. Started in 1968 by Congress as Hispanic Heritage Week, it was expanded to a month in 1988. The celebration begins in the middle rather than the start of September because it coincides with national independence days in several Latin American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica celebrate theirs on Sept. 15, followed by Mexico on Sept. 16, Chile on Sept. 18 and Belize on Sept. 21.

Here are some key facts about the nation’s Latino population by geography and characteristics like language use and origin groups.

  • In the latter half of Hispanic Heritage Month, Mexicans observe the Día de la Raza (Race Day) on October 12, which was previously known as Columbus Day. Día de la Raza (Race Day) recognizes "the mixed indigenous and European heritage of Mexico." What’s more, the end of the celebration (October 15) is only two weeks away from Mexico’s Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and November 2.
  • In total, there are 20 Hispanic countries and one territory: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and, Venezuela.
  • A person who identifies as Hispanic is from or has ancestors from a Spanish-speaking territory or country. The definition of Hispanic includes individuals from the aforementioned countries, plus Spain because Spanish is its official language.
  • The term Hispanic was first recognized by the U.S. government in the 1970s after population data began to be collected, per the request of Mexican-American and Hispanic organizations. In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed a law for information about U.S. residents from Spanish-speaking countries to be officially recorded. Since then, Hispanic appears as an “ethnicity” in various forms for government, education and employment purposes.
  • The U.S. doesn’t have an official language, but 13% of the population speaks Spanish at home.

How Are Hispanic Individuals Represented in the Criminal Justice System?

According to the Council of State Government Justice Center:

Hispanic Americans are overrepresented in our nation’s criminal justice system. Many Hispanic individuals face public misconceptions about the relationship between immigration and crime, specifically among undocumented immigrants. However, research shows Hispanic immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, and undocumented immigrants are substantially less likely to be arrested for serious crimes than U.S. citizens.

Despite committing crimes at a lower rate, Hispanic adults overall, including immigrants and native-born American citizens, are incarcerated in prison at a rate that is 2.9 times higher than that of White adults. Between 2010 and 2019, they were 1.6 times more likely to be the victim of a violent hate crime than White people. Furthermore, although Hispanic individuals are less likely to experience police contact than White individuals, the contact they do experience is more likely to be violent, including through threats or uses of force such as handcuffing, physical violence, and pointing or shooting a gun. These patterns suggest the U.S. criminal justice system treats Hispanic individuals—both citizens and non-citizens—more punitively than it does White individuals.

The Urban Institute reports gaps in states’ criminal justice system data means we don’t know how many Latinos are in prison, on probation, or arrested. A state’s failure to count ethnicity in addition to race can even mask racial disparities. A state that only counts people as “black” or “white” would likely label most of their Latino prison population as “white.” Artificially inflating the number of “white” people in prison would make white/black disparities appear less extreme than they actually are. So, comprehensive data around ethnicity doesn’t just affect Latinos.