WASHINGTON (WDVM) — During Hispanic Heritage Month we take the time to celebrate the extensive history and enriching culture Latinos have brought to the United States. 

Hispanic Heritage was previously observed by the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration as a week-long celebration and became a month-long celebration under the Ronald Reagan Administration in 1988. 

Since then, Latinos are proud their cultural heritage is recognized by the White House, however, emphasize the importance of celebrating Hispanic Heritage every day. 

This is true for Antonio Tijerino, President, and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) in D.C. 

“For Latinos, Hispanic Heritage is all year round, so it’s hard to say ‘let’s celebrate this month,’ I want to make sure they understand that they should celebrate and be celebrated year-round,” said Tijerino.

Emily Key, Director of Education at the Smithsonian Latino Center, feels the same way. 

“We like to consider ourselves and coin the term, we’re Hispanic Heritage 365 days a year at the Smithsonian,” said Key.

Over at HHF, they believe heritage is defined through leadership, education, workforce and culture.

“I’m going into my 20th year of doing this and I still can’t wait to get to work every single day…I feel as if our mission and our purpose is even more vital than ever before,” Tijerino expressed.

Tijerino has an extensive background serving as a leadership mentor for young Latinos and continues to express the need for Latino role models, a driving factor, and the focus of HHF. 

“We did a study with the Student Research Foundation and found that there was a confidence gap, a role model gap in Latinos, specifically for Latinas,” said Tijerino.  

As an immigrant himself, Tijerino understands how many young Latinos struggle with fitting in. 

“I came to the United States as a six-year-old to Washington, D.C. from Nicaragua and it was with my family. It was a transition that, I get off the plane, the very next day, I’m in first grade. No Pre-K, no Kindergarten, just go right into first grade, don’t speak a word of English,” stated Tijerino.

Tijerino said he was made fun of for speaking differently or taking special classes, but he felt strong through the guidance of a famous Latino baseball player. 

“I think of the importance of having someone who is Latino, in a position of power or influence if you will, and for me, that was Roberto Clemente…I knew what it was like to be a six-year-old who couldn’t identify with anyone when I was new in this country, but I had Roberto Clemente,” expressed Tijerino. 

Right in time for the celebration, The Smithsonian Latino Center presents its first book in the Molina Family Literacy Initiative series, titled “Nuestra America,” to honor and tell the stories of 30 inspiring Latinos. 

 “So we created this first book, Nuestra America, it was very had to bring it down to 30 inspiring Latinos and Latinas, I think one of the things I caveat is that it’s just the beginning,” said Key. 

Key said the series is directed toward younger community members, who don’t see themselves represented. She was astounded by the lack of Latino representation in children’s books overall. 

“5% of all Children’s books published in the United States in 2018 featured Latino community members,” expressed Key.  

A disheartening figure when Latinos have been a huge part of American history. 

“Latinos are a core part of what we consider the American dream, and forming that more perfect union…but many people don’t know about that community. They don’t know that Latinos have been a constant presence…that the first colonial settlement in the United States was not Jamestown in 1607, but it was in the 1500s in St. Augustine,” stated Key. 

Hispanic Heritage Month will always remain a celebration all Americans should participate in. Although the circumstances are different this year, everyone can utilize resources from both HHF and the Smithsonian Latino Center to learn more about heritage.

Be sure to tune in for the Hispanic Heritage Awards broadcasted on PBS on October 6 where celebrities such as Jessica Alba and Selena Gomez will be receiving awards.