As our world becomes more interconnected, more people from different backgrounds are beginning to form families. That means that many children are growing up in multi-ethnic households or are growing up outside of their country of origin. While being exposed to different cultures is great, trying to balance it all can make it hard to connect deeply with each component of our heritage.
Currently, we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate Hispanic traditions and culture. So, we’ve decided to use this opportunity to both share with you some of our favorite Hispanic artists, foods, and music, as well as give you some ideas on how to look into your own heritage.
Let’s get to it!
What is heritage?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of heritage is “the history, traditions, and qualities that a country or society has had for many years and that are considered an important part of its character.” In other words, heritage is the fabric of human culture, one that retains all of those things that are precious and unique to our backgrounds.
Why is heritage important?
Heritage informs our personality, our diets, and the way that we relate to one another. For example, growing up in a close-knit environment can make you more empathetic but also more susceptible to feeling isolated. Knowing where we come from can help us better understand our needs and identify those activities or traditions that bring us joy.
Heritage can also help us stay connected to our roots, even if we’re born into a multi-ethnic background or live far from our home.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month
We’ve put together a list of Hispanic personalities, artists, writers, and musicians that exemplify the best of what Latin America and its descendants have to offer. We encourage you to use this checklist to think about what heritage is and look into your own, be it from a region or a country. Who knows? You might find a lot to love.
Influential Hispanic personalities
Hispanics are thriving in all sorts of endeavors, but there are some that are dominating the conversation. Be it politics or musical theater, Hispanics are finding their seats at new tables at every turn.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to serve in congress in 2019 at age 29. Born to a Puerto Rican family and growing up in the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez is currently serving as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14 Congressional District (eastern Bronx, north-central Queens, and Rikers Island).
- Rita Moreno is the only Latina EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner. The Puerto Rican native also earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award available in the United States, and is currently known for her role as Lydia Leyte-Vidal in One Day at a Time.
- Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic and Latina justice in the United States in 2009. Born in The Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and received her Juris Doctor from Yale Law School. Currently, Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Puerto-Rican American composer, actor, and playwright. He is known for writing, producing, and acting in Hamilton and In the Heights. Miranda has also won a Pulitzer, three Tonys, an Emmy, three Grammys, and two Oliver Awards, among others.
From the iconic Frida Kahlo to the trend-setter Botero, Hispanic art is filled with unique personalities and styles.
- Frida Kahlo, a popular culture icon, was a Mexican painter known for her autobiographical self-portraits.
- Diego Rivera, Mexican artist known for his frescoes and credited for starting a mural movement in Mexico, through which he garnered international acclaim.
- Fernando Botero, born in Medellín, Colombia, is a renowned artist, sculptor, and illustrator. He is known for his voluminous figures, a style now referred to as “Boterismo.”
- Cándido Bidó was a prolific sculptor and illustrator from Dominican Republic. He was known for his colorful landscapes and faceless women.
Who doesn’t love tacos? If there is one thing that’s sacred to Hispanic heritage, it’s food. Each country and region has its own menu of delicacies, infused with different vegetables, meats, spices, and condiments.
- Tacos. A traditional Mexican dish, tacos are made with soft corn tortillas and filled with different meats, vegetables, and herbs.
- Lomo saltado. A Peruvian classic, lomo saltado consists of sautéed beef with onions, served over a bed of French fries and served with rice.
- Arroz con habichuelas. A Caribbean staple, rice and beans are served at almost every lunch alongside meat, salad, and fried plantains.
- Alfajores. A popular Argentine desert, an alfajor is a cookie sandwich, usually filled with dulce de leche and bathed in chocolate, based on a similar Andalusian pastry.
Although people love to dance to Hispanic music, there is actually a lot more than meets the eye (or the ears, in this case). From fusion to orchestra, there’s something for everyone in the Hispanic musical repertoire.
- Juan Luis Guerra is a Dominican musician and producer recognized for popularizing merengue and Afro-Latin fusion music. He’s sold more than 20 million records worldwide and has won 21 Latin Grammys and two Grammys.
- Shakira is a Colombian singer, dancer, and producer, commonly known as the Queen of Latin Music. She made her recording debut at the of 13 and has since won three Grammys, 12 Latin Grammys, seven Billboard Music Awards, and has broken six Guiness World Records.
- Gustavo Dudamel is a Venezuelan conductor and violinist, currently working as the music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolivar. Dudamel was named Gramophone Artist of the Year in 2011 and won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance in 2012. In 2013, he was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame.
There’s a long history of Hispanic literature, often commended be is considered rich A predominant genre in Hispanic literature is magic realism. Popular themes include family, heritage, duality, and the effects of colonization and exile.
- Gabriel García Márquez was a Colombian author known for his magic realism novels, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 Nobel prize winner, and author of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
- Julio Cortázar was an Argentine novelist and prominent figure of the Latin American Boom, a period of great literary output in the region. His works are most often categorized under surrealism and magic realism. His magnum opus, Hopscotch, is a counter-novel, written in stream of consciousness and offering multiple endings and readings.
- Isabel Allende is a Chilean author, and probably the most widely read Spanish-language author. She’s best known for her magical realism novel, The House of the Spirits, but has garnered a broader readership since becoming involved with the Hispanic literary scene in the U.S.
- Mario Benedetti was a prolific Uruguayan author and poet. He published over 80 books throughout his life, which were translated in 20 languages.
- Julia Álvarez is a Dominican-American novelist and poet known for her novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. She often incorporates Spanglish in her books and explores the themes of interconnectedness and expatriation. She’s received several awards such as the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1974.
How to find your family heritage
Heritage starts at home. Asking your parents or grandparents is an easy first step when looking into your roots. Family members may have stories and pictures to share with you. And, who knows, maybe talking about your heritage is all about will inspire a family trip to your ancestors’ land.
Sometimes families don’t have the whole story, or a lot of it may have been lost through the generations. If so, DNA tests have become popular among second and third generation communities looking to reconnect with their roots. A lot of the platforms online also share with you any potential DNA matches in their network, (I.e. long-lost relatives).
If DNA tests aren’t your thing, you can try searching for online groups. Connect with people who share your last name or who live in the town or city your family originated from. They might already have the answers you’re looking for!
We hope that you’ve found a new favorite Hispanic personality and feel inspired to find out about what’s behind your own heritage.