By Dr. Carlos Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the VCU School of Dentistry

National Hispanic Heritage Month, or Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana, is annually celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in the U.S. in an effort to celebrate the history, culture and contributions of celebrates the culture and contributions of Americans tracing their roots to Spain, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Caribbean.

Hispanic Heritage Month began as Hispanic Heritage Week and was established by legislation signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. In 1988, the commemorative week was expanded to a month signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Hispanic Heritage Month — like its shorter precursor — always starts on Sept. 15, a historically significant day marking the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The designated period is also a nod to those from Mexico and Chile, which celebrate their independence Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.

Latinos have long been making important contributions to the nation’s health care, going back as early as the 1500s with Francisco Bravo authoring the first medical book published on the American continent. In the 1800s, Dr. Carlos Juan Finlay made the important discovery linking yellow fever to mosquitos.

Did you know

  • 18.7% – The Hispanic share of the U.S. population as of April 1, 2020, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s second largest racial or ethnic group.
  • 25.7% – The share of children (under the age of 18) who were of Hispanic origin as of April 1, 2020, up from 23.1% in 2010.
  • Dental providers of Hispanic heritage are underrepresented in the dental profession and those that are in practice, shoulder a disproportionate share of dental care for minority and underserved communities.
  • Language is a huge factor in oral health disparity. Spanish-preferred Hispanics present the worst dental visits and oral health status, and the poorest SES. English-preferred Hispanics present better oral health than Non-Hispanic blacks, but worse than Non-Hispanic Whites.

So is it Hispanic, Latino or Latinx?

  • Latinos in the U.S. describe their identity in many ways, reflecting the diversity of origins in the Latino community, the immigrant experience and geography. Broadly, some Latinos use pan-ethnic terms such as “Hispanic” or “Latino” to describe their identity; some prefer their family’s Hispanic origin group; others use “American”. When describing their identity, more than half (54%) of Hispanics say they most often use the name of their ancestors’ Hispanic origin (such as Mexican, Dominican, Salvadoran or Cuban). An additional 23% say they describe themselves most often as “American.” And one-in-five (20%) most often use the pan-ethnic terms of “Hispanic” or “Latino” to describe their identity.
  • Latinx is a new, gender-neutral, pan-ethnic label that has emerged that is used by some news and entertainment outlets, corporations, local governments and universities to describe the nation’s Hispanic population. However, for the population it is meant to describe, only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves.

The Hispanic Dental Association, founded in 1990, has as its mission: “As the leading voice for Hispanic Oral Health, we provide service, education-research, advocacy, and leadership for all healthcare professionals, to promote overall health of the Hispanic/Latinx and underrepresented communities.”

Save the Date!

In celebration of Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month, we will continue our virtual conversation series: Diversity DialoguesHonoring our past, celebrating our present and ensuring an equitable and inclusive future.

Please join us on Tuesday September 28th at 5:15pm for a conversation with Dr. Isabel Garcia, a VCU School of Dentistry alumna of the class of 1980,and the Dean of the University of Florida College of Dentistry. Register directly via Zoom Webinar here.

Categories Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, News, Schoolwide News, schoolwide news
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