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September 15 to October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States, a time to celebrate the rich culture, the extraordinary contributions, and the special heritage of Hispanic-Americans. The celebration began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week and was expanded by law in 1988 to a month-long event.
Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the independence days of Latin American nations – all with close ties of friendship to the United States – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, and Belize.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Hispanic population is projected to nearly triple, from almost 47 million to 133 million from 2008 to 2050, and will grow from 15 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. population.
Hispanic Americans have distinguished themselves in every field of endeavor. They have served in the U.S. Congress since 1822, and serve in government today at all levels.
Outstanding Hispanic American women include Romana Acosta Banuelos. Daughter of impoverished Mexican immigrants, in 1971 she became the first Hispanic American appointed Treasurer of the United States. From 1990 to 1993 Antonia Coello Novello served as U.S. Surgeon General, the first women to hold this position. Astronaut Ellen Ochoa flew the first of four space shuttle missions in 1991. And in August of this year, Sonia Maria Sotomayor became the first Hispanic and the third woman appointed a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Hispanic American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen have served their country with dedication and courage. Forty-three men of Hispanic heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration the United States gives.
Other outstanding Hispanic Americans include Robert Guizueta, former Chief Executive Officer of Coca Cola; noted author Oscar Hijuelos; Oscar winning actor Jose Ferrer, award winning singer, dancer and actress Rita Moreno; labor leader Cesar Chavez; baseball Hall of Fame inductee Roberto Clemente; and popular singer Joan Baez.
"Hispanics have played a vital role in the moments and movements that have shaped our country," said President Barack Obama. "The story of Hispanics in America is the story of America itself."