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10.12.2023

Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating Diversity and Pursuing Global Health

Hispanic and Latin Americans have a long and celebrated history in the United States. Learn more about their vital contributions to global health.

By Andres De Sousa, Armand Viscarri, Sara Leonard

September 15 to October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. It’s a time to recognize and highlight the contributions, culture, diversity, traditions, and history of Hispanic and Latin Americans in the United States. According to the U.S. government, Hispanics, Latinos, Latinas and Latine people make up more than 60 million of the population, making it the largest ethnic minority group in the United States today.

Latine Americans have been described as “a mosaic, not a monolith.” Here we highlight the diverse communities that make up this demographic and highlight Project HOPE’s efforts to meet the unique needs of Hispanic and Latine individuals across the globe.

Diverse Geography

Hispanic Americans come from 20 countries and territories, including Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Some Hispanic Americans can also trace their roots with that of indigenous people, such as the Aztecs in Mexico, Mayans in Central America, Incas in South America, Arawaks in Puerto Rico, and Taínos in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Given this diversity, it is impossible to make general assumptions about Latinos that apply to all groups.

Esteban and Julia outside Hope Family Health Center in McAllen
Esteban, right, is a community health worker at Hope Family Health Center in McAllen, Texas, a charitable clinic supported by Project HOPE. Because of him, people like Julia, left, are more able to access the vaccine. Photo by James Buck for Project HOPE, 2021.

Diverse Influence

Hispanics and Latinos are an influential part of the United States. A 2022 study found that the gross domestic product of U.S. Latinos ranks fifth in the world. The term “sleeping giant” has often been used to describe the potential of this population, however, there is no sleeping going on here: the influence and importance of Hispanic Americans is evident now more than ever. The Hispanic population has grown steadily in the past 10 years, comprising 1-in-5 people in the United States.

According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanic population growth in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s was attributed to immigration. More recently it is newborns, not immigrants, that are leading to the growth of Hispanics in the United States. A vast majority of the Hispanics are U.S. citizens who have lived in this country for at least a decade and reside in all states and territories.

Many Latine Americans have left their mark through contributions in health, including leading efforts that continue to be influential today.

For instance, Carlos Finlay, MD, was a Cuban American doctor who is credited with finding the origins of yellow fever. In the late 1800s, he found a correlation between the yellow fever epidemic and mosquitos.

Severo Ochoa, MD, was the first Hispanic American to win the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for his discoveries in RNA. His research led to a better understanding of how the body breaks down carbohydrates and fatty acids.

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, was born in Panama and worked extensively to make sure that representation and an understanding of the Latine population was present in health systems in the United States. She founded the National Association of Hispanic Nurses to assure that there would be more representation in this field.

Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías was a Puerto Rican public health expert who served as the first Latina director of the American Public Health Association. She worked extensively to create greater understanding regarding the connection between poverty, inequality, and racism with poor health.

Today, Julio Frenk, MD, has been an influential voice in global public health policy. As the Minister of Health in Mexico, he expanded health care access to millions of uninsured people. He currently serves as the president of the University of Miami and has been an advocate on topics such as poverty, humanitarian crisis, and health systems.

A woman breathing with an oxygen tank receives information from a man on healthcare.
Latine Americans play a critical role in health, including in the charitable clinics Project HOPE has supported throughout the pandemic. Photo by Emily Nichols for Project HOPE, 2022.

Pursuing Global Health for Latine Communities

Project HOPE has been working in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1962, tackling critical health issues such as maternal and neonatal mortality, diabetes, and natural disasters. The Latin America and Caribbean region is the world’s second-most disaster-prone region. In the past 50 years alone, there have been an estimated 4,500 disasters, 600,000 deaths, and 3 million injuries from the recurring and sudden occurrences of earthquakes, hurricanes, flash floods, and drought. These disasters are entangled with a complicated and shifting political context that hinders the overall quality of life for people across the region.

Despite the challenges, Project HOPE’s initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean region have made a significant impact on the lives of countless individuals. Project HOPE has provided critical support to more than 25 countries in the Americas, touching the lives of millions.

Expectant mothers and newborns have been able to access improved maternal and child health care.

Communities affected by natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies have been reached thanks to vital supplies offered and health care supported to protect the well-being of those affected. In the Dominican Republic, health care workers and maternity hospitals have been empowered, ultimately saving the lives of pregnant women and their babies.

In Colombia, pregnant women and mothers who have migrated from their homes have received prenatal and OBGYN care along with psychosocial support.

In Honduras, communities have been reached with services and information to support the prevention of noncommunicable diseases and COVID-19.

In Mexico and the Dominican Republic, young people have been empowered by our youth-focused programs to adopt healthier lifestyles, benefiting their well-being and future prospects.

In Haiti — yes, Haiti is a Latin American country, and not all Latinos come from Spanish-speaking countries — more people have access to primary health care services; mental health and psychosocial support; and water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies.

Project HOPE’s work has also impacted Latine communities in the U.S. through our work supporting free and charitable clinics throughout the pandemic. Thanks to funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, Project HOPE supported 37 free and charitable clinics to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. With Project HOPE’s support, the clinics were able to offer vaccination incentives and hire community health workers who served as a critical link to build trust, combat misinformation, and reach the most underserved populations.

Many of the community health workers hired by the clinics spoke Spanish and worked alongside Latine communities to connect people to their local clinic to get vaccinated and protect themselves from COVID-19.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of this diverse community and commit to continuing to collaborate for the well-being of communities in the Latin America and the Caribbean region and across the globe.

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