Today, September 15, marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Mes de la Herencia Hispana) in the United States. To celebrate the month, World Book begins by highlighting the life and achievements of writer Juan Felipe Herrera. In 2015, Herrera became the first Chicano to be appointed poet laureate of the United States. A Chicano is a person of Mexican descent who was born in the United States or who identifies with that group. Since the late 1900’s, Herrera has been a leading voice in exploring the Mexican American experience in the United States. In addition to his adult and children’s poetry, Herrera’s work includes video, photography, theater, and performance pieces. Poet Tracy K. White will replace Herrera as poet laureate later this year.
Herrera has lived almost his entire life in California, and his writings are strongly influenced by his experiences growing up in the state as a Chicano. He published his first book of poetry, Rebozos of Love, in 1974. Herrera’s other major books include the memoir Mayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America (1997), and the poetry collections Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999), Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), Senegal Taxi (2013), and Notes on the Assemblage (2015). CrashBoomLove (1999) is a novel in verse. Herrera has written several children’s books, including the autobiographical The Upside Down Boy (2000) and Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes (2014).
Herrera was born in Fowler, California, on Dec. 27, 1948, the son of migrant farmworkers. In 1972, he received a B.A. degree in social anthropology from the University of California at Los Angeles. He received an M.A. degree in anthropology from Stanford University in 1980 and an M.F.A. degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1990. Herrera was a professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies at California State University, Fresno, from 1990 to 2004. In 2005, he joined the creative writing department at the University of California at Riverside. Herrera was named poet laureate of California in 2012. He retired from teaching in 2015.
National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the achievements and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans and celebrates their heritage and culture. September 15 was chosen to begin the month because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico (September 16), Chile (September 18), and Belize (September 21) also celebrate independence days during Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., hosts a variety of events during National Hispanic Heritage Month. The National Endowment for the Humanities website features numerous online exhibits and collections related to Hispanic Americans and Latino culture and history. For more information, see the official government website.
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Image 1: Credit: © National Hispanic Heritage Month
Image 2: Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed poet laureate of the United States in 2015. Credit: Oregon State University (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)