By / Oct 15

Today is the last day of National Hispanic Heritage Month. This time, observed from September 15 to October 15, is set aside in the U.S. to celebrate the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to society and culture.

Here are five facts you should know in connection with this observance:

1. Hispanic is a term applied to the ethnic group that consists of people from Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish cultures. Hispanic is not a race and the term can be applied to a person from any racial group (White/Caucasian, Black/African American, Asian, etc.) or a mix of racial groups. (Nearly half of Hispanics identify their racial category as White.)

2. In 1997, the United States Government officially expanded the ethnic categorization from Hispanic to “Hispanic or Latino.” The reasoning was that Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion. But while Hispanic and Latino have a considerable degree of overlap, the terms are not interchangeable. Hispanic come from Hispania, the Latin word for “Spain” while Latino is believed to be an English derivation of the Spanish word latinoamericano. Hispanic is therefore used to refer to people from Spanish-speaking countries (e.g., Spain, Central America) while Latino refers to those of Latin-American descent even if they do not speak Spanish (e.g., some Brazilians).

3. In 2014, a survey found that a majority of Latino adults (55 percent) say they are Catholic, while 16 percent are evangelical Protestants and 5 percent are mainline Protestants. Mexicans and Dominicans are more likely than other Hispanic origin groups to say they are Catholic, while Salvadorans are more likely to say they are evangelical Protestants than do Mexicans, Cubans, and Dominicans.

4. About eight-in-ten Hispanic churchgoers in the U.S. (82 percent) say their church offers Spanish-language services, 75 percent say there is Hispanic clergy at their church, and 61 percent say that most or all of the other people they worship with also are Hispanic. More than half (51 percent) say the place of worship they attend most often has all three of these characteristics.

5. Nearly six-in-ten Hispanic churchgoers (57 percent) say their church maintains close ties with countries in Latin America by sending money or missionaries to these countries or receiving clergy from countries in the region. About one-in-five Hispanics say that their place of worship does not maintain close ties to Latin American countries (21 percent) and the same share say they do not know if this is the case (21 percent).

By / Oct 14

From September 15 through October 15, we celebrate the heritage and culture of the Hispanic community.

The celebration started on September 15, mainly because of the anniversary of independence for most Hispanic countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico obtained its independence on September 16 while Chile achieved independence on September 18.

This celebration continues into October to commemorate “El Día de la Raza,” or “The day of the Race,” on October 12. This day is celebrated throughout Mexico and Latin America. The day recognizes all the different cultures, traditions and languages that are interwoven in the history of Mexico, Central America and South America. These races include Native Americans, such as the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas; and European nationalities, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

What we know today as Hispanic Heritage Month actually started as National Hispanic Heritage Week to honor the independence of Hispanic countries from September 15-18. In 1974, then President Gerald R. Ford proclaimed the week beginning September 10, 1974, and ending September 16, 1974, as National Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1989, it became a month-long celebration which we now honor every year.

Spaniards, French and Portuguese were among the earliest European settlers in the New World, what is the United States today. Hispanic Americans have roots in Europe, Africa and South and Central America and close cultural ties to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Spain.

Today, the Hispanic population in the United States is estimated at 50 million people. According to the U.S. Census, the country's Hispanic population grew by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010, making it the largest and the fastest growing minority group in the country.

Every Christian can celebrate

As Christians, Hispanic Heritage Month means so much more than just a celebration of a culture. As sons and daughters of Abraham, Christians can celebrate the manifold wisdom of God displayed in His eternal plan through the church. Since the beginning, God promised Abraham that through him He would bless “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church that this promise is being fulfilled through the church as God unites all things in Christ (1:10). It is amazing that one of the many things the Lord is uniting through Christ is a people from every tribe and nation. He is gathering under Christ a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church. Paul´s point is that in the church of Jesus Christ there are no categories or preferences. The Jew is no better than the Gentile. In Christ, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).

Isn´t it amazing that God is uniting under His wings so many different cultures that many times have little in common? Every local church and every Christian has the supernatural, God-given gift of participating in God´s marvelous plan through the gospel of His Son. After all, Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” And what is the purpose of that? “That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). So, when we celebrate together this month, we are letting the world around us know that God is powerful enough to make two different cultures that had nothing in common be united under the gospel of reconciliation.

Where can you start?

The Lord is doing amazing things in the Hispanic world. From the Sonoran Desert in Mexico to the Patagonia in Argentina, God seems to be working in a special and supernatural way in what many are calling a New Hispanic Reformation. One of the things you can start doing today is to get to know specific stories of this new wave — like the ones my friend Ivan Mesa has written about in the last few months for the Gospel Coalition.

As you read these stories of grace, celebrate with your Hispanic brothers and sisters today. Celebrate God´s manifold wisdom. Celebrate our unity in our diversity. Celebrate with some tamales and enchiladas for the glory of God.