Many Hispanic Americans trace their roots to the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas — including the Arawaks (Puerto Rico), the Aztecs (Mexico), the Incas (South America), the Maya (Central America), and the Tainos (in Cuba, Puerto Rico and other places).
Some trace their roots to the Spanish explorers — who in the 1400s set out to find an easier and less costly way to trade with the Indies. Other Latinos trace their roots to the Africans who were brought as slaves to the New World.
For purposes of the U.S. Census, Hispanic Americans today are identified according to the parts of the world that they or their ancestors came from, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, or the nations of Central or South America.
Hispanic Heritage History:
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.
The public laws that designated a week and then a month for National Hispanic Heritage are available in the United States Statutes at Large which is widely available through federal depository libraries.
Pub. L. 90-498, 82 Stat. 848 (PDF, 153 KB): A House joint resolution authorizing the President to proclaim annually the week including September 15 and 16 as National Hispanic Heritage Week.
Pub. L. 100-402, 102 Stat. 1012 (PDF, 58 KB): To amend Pub. L. 90-498 to provide for the designation of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
These laws are codified in the United States Code at 36 U.S.C. 126.
Felix Longoria was KILLED IN ACTION in the Philippines during WW2. When his remains were returned to his home town (Three Rivers, Texas), the local funeral home would not allow him to lay in state and he could not be buried in the white section of the cemetery. When this was reported in national newspapers, Longoria became the first Mexican-American to be interred in Arlington National Cemetery.