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Guide to Observing Hispanic Heritage Month

hispanic heritage month

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) is proud to recognize and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, during which time we honor and celebrate the culture, history, and contributions of Hispanic Americans. Observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968, inspired by many Latin American countries celebrating the anniversary of their independence during this period and the growing influence of people of Hispanic descent in American society. There are over 60 million Hispanic Americans, accounting for 18.7% of the national population, making them the largest minority group in the United States. Hispanic Americans contribute significantly to our country’s prosperity and spirit. As we celebrate our country’s Hispanic heritage, it is important that we also address any barriers or challenges that Hispanic Americans may face in their efforts to reach their utmost potential. We all know that America is stronger, both here at home and on the world stage, when we harness the strength of every voice and every community that makes up our nation.

We aim for SDCOE to be a place wherein accordance with our board goal of providing educational opportunities and support so that all students are successful — we prioritize the specific needs of Hispanic Americans and all minorities in our policy and ongoing dialogues.

This recognition month started out as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 and was extended to four weeks from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in 1988. 

Information and Facts Terminology

English Learner and Latinx

How many students are Latinx in San Diego County? How many K-12 students in the county are English learners?

According to the California Department of Education, for the 2020-21 school year, the Latinx student population is 237,657 out of 490,068 total students, or 48.5%. Statewide there are 3,330,300 Latinx students (52.3%).

In San Diego County, there are 84,213 students who are English learners and statewide there are 1,062,290 students who are English learners. 

Often, the terms “Latinx” and “English learners” are used synonymously. Nevertheless, assuming that a Latinx student is still acquiring English is not only incorrect in many cases, but it also adds to a deficit mindset about language capacity among Latinx students and families.

Hispanic, Chicano/a, or Latino/a/x/e

This video from the City of Lawrence, Indiana explains the origins of and differences between the terms. 

The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino/a/x/e" are often used interchangeably to describe a group that makes up nearly 20% of the U.S. population. Latinx-identifying communities began to push for a pan-ethnic label in the late 1960s and 1970s. Nevertheless, the terms used to self-identify and unify across multiple nationalities have changed and evolved across the decades.

“Hispanic” refers to those from Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, which excludes Brazilians. While this term has been used widely, it has been criticized for its connection to the legacy of colonization by Spain. “Latino” was offered as an alternative. During the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, some Mexican Americans also identified as “Chicano,” which was originally used as a derogatory term in 1911 and reclaimed for political Latinx identity.

According to a Pew Research Center 2013 study, only one in five respondents described themselves as Hispanic or Latino. In contrast, 54% used “their family’s Hispanic origin term (such as Mexican, Cuban, Salvadoran) to identify themselves” and 23% used “American” most commonly. Other people of Latin American descent report that they code-switch depending on the context (e.g., Mexican American, Latina, Chicano, Latinx).

In the past two decades, the term Latinx, a gender-neutral term first adopted by queer-identifying people of Latin American descent, has become more well known after being used by academics and public figures. Another gender-neutral term, Latine, is less prevalent in the U.S., but increasingly used as a gender nonbinary term across Spanish-speaking countries.

Similar to the previous pan-ethnic labels, there has also been some pushback to the terms Latinx and Latine. When you’re unsure of which term to use to describe someone, ask them.

For more information: Exploratorium resource and The History Behind the Terms

Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth Model

In her model of community cultural wealth, Dr. Tara J. Yosso identifies six forms of cultural wealth (aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial, and resistant capital) possessed and earned by socially marginalized groups, which counter the lens of cultural deficit.

The Cultural Wealth Model represents a framework to understand how students of color access and experience college from a strengths-based perspective. While Yosso’s model was initially designed to “capture the talents, strengths and experiences that students of color bring with them to their college environment,” it is also widely used among organizations to explore how it reinforces or promotes each type of capital.

Take linguistic capital, for instance. One example of linguistic capital is when students translate for family members, often in high-stakes contexts, such as parent/teacher conferences, medical appointments, housing contracts, and legal applications. Likewise, students might also translate in commercial, cultural, and entertainment settings.

Through an asset-based lens, we value this capital as purposeful. Students are active participants in their communities. Invoking a play on the Spanish word “para,” Orellana et. al (2003) have coined the term “para-phrasing,” which signifies the various ways in which children use their knowledge of the English language and of U.S. cultural traditions to speak for others in order to accomplish social goals.

A culturally responsive instructional practice is to design lessons with this linguistic capital in mind. Ask students: “Do you translate? If so, where?” Then plan authentic instructional activities, such as reading and responding to a letter from the electric company, translating report elementary report cards for a younger sibling, and interacting with complex financial documents.

More information: CSBA Fact Sheet (PDF)


Find data on San Diego County student demographics in the SDCOE Equity Blueprint for Action or by visiting the California School Dashboard for more specific information. 

What Our Students and Community Members are Saying

We seek to listen to diverse voices within our community and honor their knowledge and beliefs about educational concerns and best practices for our students. These statements were shared by Latinx students and community members, and we strive to listen and amplify these voices. 

  • Understand that within our community we have a strong relationship with other languages and dialects, and yet many of us have been in the United States for generations and only speak English.
  • True understanding of our geography. Latinx includes all of the Americas and encompasses cultures, civilizations and history. Our dialects in Spanish and many other things can be different.
  • Our students will feel empowered and valued if we included them in our decision-making bodies
  • Our preferred name is complex: Latino/a, Latinx, Hispanic, Chicano. Understand the complexities and the reasons why we have certain preferences.
  • Develop our students' leadership, offer them opportunities to practice their leadership before graduation.
  • Honor our traditions, language, and culture. We believe in ritual and in collectivism. There is strength in our communities.
  • Teach the long, complex history of immigration; honor our ancestors.
  • True understanding of our communal and familial strength and perseverance.
  • Strong representation of our positive contributions.
  • Understand that the community values education and that systems are different.
  • Our families and community need opportunities to understand the American school system; schools should provide sessions for learning.
  • Registering “family” in schools (understanding the communal ways in which our children are raised).
  • Getting rid of the fear factor (deportation/ immigration status, school-to-prison pipeline, negative stereotypes associated with our community)

More information: Watch our SDCOE Latinx Student Experience Panel where students speak to their experiences in education. 

Identity-Based Curriculum Modules

Latinx Teachers Guide

Units of Study

Follow Latinx Content Creators

Resources for Educators

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More to explore