September 15th through October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time to come together and celebrate the rich and diverse Hispanic and Latinx culture in the United States of America.
A little background information on the event and what it means: Hispanic refers to any person or country which has a history of being related to Spain. Latin America generally refers to the entire continent of South America, Mexico, and certain Caribbean Islands whose inhabitants speak Spanish. President Lyndon Johnson began the practice of observing Hispanic Heritage in the United States, and President Ronald Reagan changed the observation so that it lasted thirty days. The start date is noteworthy because is the commemoration of independence for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Mexico and Chile’s independence days fall nearby on September 16 and 18, respectively. Below is a list of talented, revolutionary Latinx writers and their amazing contributions to their countries and the culture.
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Jose Marti (1852-1895) was a Cuban poet and author. His works became symbols of independence and freedom against Spanish rule over Cuba. His Versos Sencillos are perhaps his most famous collection of poetry. The song Guantanamera is based on this collection of poetry and was famously sung by Celia Cruz, a revolutionary Cuban singer who was exiled from Cuba during the Communist takeover. He passed away fighting for his country and his beliefs but his spirit lives on in those looking for freedom and liberation.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) is hailed as one of the greatest Latin American poets of his time. Like many poets and authors of Latin America, his writing is not without political under- and overtones but his poems about love are what continue to move us as contemporary readers. Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto, he adopted his pseudonym while in his teens. Due to political tensions in Chile, Nerudo was forced to live underground before being exiled from Chile. Upon returning, the poet and author served as the nation’s ambassador to France and was awarded the Nobel Prize for writing moving poetry, such as Obras Completas. He is partially responsible for helping Isabel Allende, another great Latinx writer, in finding her passion for writing novels.
Brazil is often overlooked because it was colonized by Portugal and not Spain. But it is largely considered a part of Latin America. Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian writer, lived a life worth writing about and that’s just what he did. Coelho was sent to a mental institution by his parents, dropped out of law school, and was persecuted by the Brazilian government who viewed song lyrics he wrote as a threat to their power. He claims to have reached enlightenment while walking in Spain. He wrote about this experience in his book, The Pilgrimage. Coelho’s other book, The Alchemist, was his claim to fame and has been translated into at least seventy languages. The book is about finding and manifesting one’s destiny and is viewed as a self-help book in disguise by many readers.
The plight of indigenous people in Hispanic countries has been a stain on the beauty and diverseness of Hispanic culture. Rigoberta Menchu dictated a book, I, Rigoberta Menchu, that brought a darker side of living in Hispanic countries to light. Her book describes the horrors of the Guatemalan government aimed towards the indigenous groups in the country. While they tore her world and family apart, she overcame the obstacles, shared her stories, and continues to fight against humans rights violations. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and was one of the founders of the Nobel Women’s Initiative with five other Nobel Peace Laureates. By sharing her story and recognizing individual rights, she invites Hispanic people and all people together in the fight for equality.
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