Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month through History, Numbers and Public Service

Did you know that we are in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month? In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson established an annual week-long celebration of the culture and traditions of those who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan expanded the national observance to a month from September 15 to October 15.

In Texas history

Hispanic culture and tradition has always been a part of Texas. As any Texan knows, our state has an enduring history with Mexico. The area that constitutes our state was once the Mexican province of Coahuila and was populated by Hispanics of Mexican and Spanish descent as well as Native Americans.

Yet this northern Mexican territory was sparsely populated, so with an eye for future development, the Mexican government offered free land grants to Americans contingent on agreeing to requirements such as becoming a Mexican citizen, converting to Catholicism and foregoing the practice of slavery. Stephen F Austin first led 300 American immigrants and others seized Davy Crockett’s notion of “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas” and settled in our state.

In 1836, Texas becomes an independent republic through the heroic efforts of many including Sam Houston, our city’s namesake, and others such as Juan Seguin and José Antonio Navarro. Seguin, born in San Antonio in 1806, lived a life of public service. He worked as an alderman and political chief of Bexar before serving in several military positions. Seguin is perhaps best known for fighting at the Alamo and leaving only when sent as a courier to meet Sam Houston in Gonzalez. As the leader of a Tejano unit, he also fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. Seguin eventually served four terms as a senator in the Republic of Texas.

José Antonio Navarro was born in San Antonio in 1795. He, too, lived a life of public service, including stints as a Coahuila and Texas state legislator and Mexican congressman. Navarro became close to Stephen F. Austin and later became one of three Mexicans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. Later as a Texas congressional representative from Bexar, he fought for the rights of Tejanos.

Fast forward in history and Texas becomes a U.S. state, a Confederate state and again a U.S. state, while its Hispanic population declines and grows again.

In the nation today

Other states, such as California and Florida, have special connections to Hispanic population and culture (Mexico and Cuba, respectively), and according to the numbers from the 2010 Census, the Hispanic population is continuing to grow throughout the nation.

The following list includes some statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau illustrating this growth:

50.5 million. As of April 1, 2010, the U.S. population of Hispanic origin is 50.5 million in addition to 3.7 million residents of Puerto Rico. Hispanics are the largest ethnic or racial minority in the nation. [1]

46.3% of New Mexico’s population was Hispanic in 2010, the highest of any state. Hispanics also comprise 38% of the population in Texas and California. [2]

96% of the population of Webb County, Texas was Hispanic in 2010. This is the highest proportion of any county. [3]

2.3 million Hispanic-owned businesses were found in the U.S. in 2007, up 43.7 percent from 2002. This growth was also more than double the national rate. [4]

$345.2 billion was generated by Hispanic-owned businesses in 2007, up 55.5 percent from 2002. [5]

23.6% of businesses in New Mexico in 2007 were Hispanic-owned. Florida (22.4%) and Texas (20.7 %) were runners-up. [6]

9.7 million Hispanic citizens reported voting in the 2008 presidential election, approximately 2 million more than voted in 2004. The percentage of Hispanic citizens voting went from 47 percent in 2004 to 50 percent in 2008. [7]

1.1 million Hispanics 18 and older were veterans of the U.S. armed forces in 2009. [8]

In Texas today

Following in the footsteps of Seguin, Navarro and congressional and civil rights leader Henry B. González, Hispanic Texans continue to serve our state in every level of government. While there are too many throughout the state to list, here are some of our current local Hispanic governmental officials (who were all educated at the University of Houston or the University of Houston-Downtown by the way!):

  • Senator Mario Gallegos
  • State Representative Carol Alvarado
  • State Representative Jessica Farrar
  • State Representative Ana Hernandez
  • State Representative Armando Walle
  • Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia
  • Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez
  • Houston City Council Member Ed Gonzalez

Whether considering history, business ownership, military service, civic participation or any other aspect of American life, Hispanic Americans have made significant contributions to our state and nation. This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month theme says it all: Many Backgrounds, Many Stories…One American Spirit.

[1] Source: American FactFinder: United States DP-1 <http://factfinder2.census.gov>; and <http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-04.pdf>;

[2] Source: American FactFinder: United States DP-1 <http://www.factfinder2.census.gov/>;

[3] Source: American FactFinder: Texas DP-1 <http://factfinder2.census.gov>;

[4] Source: Census Bureau Reports Hispanic-Owned Businesses Increase at More than Double the National Rate <http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/economic_census/cb10-107.html>;

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Source: Voting and Registration in the Election of 2008 <httphttp://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p20-562.pdf>

[8] Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey: Table B21001I http://www.census.gov/acs/www/


About the Author: This blog entry was written by Professor Renee Cross.

Associate Director, Hobby Center for Public Policy; Lecturer, Political Science, University of Houston; Lecturer, Political Science, University of Houston-Downtown. Expertise: Texas and Houston Politics, Politics & the Internet, Civic Engagement & Public Service.

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