THE BLOG
10/20/2014 12:13 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2014

Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating, and Pondering

This past month featured the long standing awards shows -- NCLR's ALMA Awards on MSNBC and the Hispanic Heritage Awards on PBS -- that take place during Hispanic Heritage Month. New this year were shows like ESPN's prime time OneNación, a collaboration with ESPN Deportes. These shows spent an hour each on air highlighting accomplished Hispanics, like Zoe Saldana (at both ALMA and Hispanic Heritage), Congressman Ruben Hinojosa or even former San Antonio Spur (and bilingual honorary Hispanic) Bruce Bowen. There were "ordinary" people as well, celebrated for achievements in social work, education and more.

The primetime recognition of the accomplishments and contributions of Hispanics to US culture is not something that would have seemed possible fifty years ago, before Lyndon Johnson instituted Hispanic Heritage Month in 1968, part of the civil rights era's emphasis on ethnic identity recognition. But as Hispanics grow and thrive in the U.S., as seen through the parades, award shows and the like this month, it is useful to think about how Hispanics are reconciling their ethnic heritage with their U.S. identity, and how the U.S. cultural identity is in turn being shaped by the ethnic identity of Hispanics.

The most familiar signifiers of "Hispanic heritage" are the fairly obvious ones -- language, music, food, sports. But there are deeper elements of culture that relate to values which are not as overt. For example, Hispanic heritage is rooted in Natural Law theory. This undergirds many of the cultural values of Hispanicity: things like hierarchy, paternalism, authoritarianism and corporatism. Collectivism and holistic views of the world are also part of this heritage. These underpinnings of Hispanic culture help explain some of its distinctiveness: more defined gender roles (machismo and marianismo), greater religiosity and belief in family and extended family as a collective, rather than individualistic, identity.

And these underlying values impact a host of world views across a wide variety of categories, shaping broader cultural norms in the U.S. We know that over 65 percent of U.S. Hispanics are millennials, making up nearly 20 percent of the total population of millennials in the U.S. Looking at millennial behaviors and beliefs we can see evidence of Hispanic cultural influence. A familiarity with and acceptance of collectivism is at the heart of the "sharing economy," where, for instance it makes more sense to use ZipCar when needed vs. buying one. And the rise in adult millennials who live with their parents, while partly due to economic strife and unemployment, can also be partly attributed to the cultural norms of Hispanic millennials. This process will certainly continue, and as the Hispanic voting bloc becomes a greater force, it will increasingly find its way into political and social policy.

Amongst U.S. Hispanics themselves, we also see the process of cultural reconciliation happening: gender roles are changing, with more Hispanic women attending college with aspirations for careers. More Hispanics are breaking away from traditional religion. More Hispanics are having children outside of marriage, an anathema to traditional values. Spanish language is deeply valued, but wanes in the third generation. Music becomes a mash up, with stars like ALMA award winners Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera. This reconciliation process will certainly continue, and as the Hispanic voting bloc becomes a greater force, find it way into political and social policy. This reconciliation comes with tensions, and trade offs for Hispanics and for U.S. cultural identity overal

Hispanic heritage is certainly about the people and their contributions. And it's certainly about the music, food and language. It's also about a reconciliation of one value system with another, the trade-offs this requires and produces within culture and the influence it has beyond.

I would love to see a show on that next year.