It is important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. U.S. Latinos/as today constitutes a dynamic and very diverse population in this country. Their growth in the past few decades has been very rapid to the point where they have already surpassed African Americans as the largest ethnic minority in the United Sates. According to the 2010 U.S. census, there had been a 43 percent increase in the Latino/a population since 2000, from a total of 35 million to over 50 million inhabitants. They are expected to become an increasingly important force culturally, politically, and economically in the next few decades.
It is very important to understand that U.S. Latinos/as share strong cultural bonds and a common heritage and language, but at the same time they are very diverse in many other respects; their histories are different and they also differ racially and ethnically. For example, many Mexican Americans come from families that have lived in the U.S. Southwest for many generations and many others come from families who have arrived in the United States from Mexico. Many Latinos/as, whose past can be traced to countries such as Mexico, the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and the Andean countries of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile, have brought with them a rich Indian and mestizo ancestry. Many Latinos/as from the Caribbean countries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the island of Puerto Rico, and Brazil can trace their ancestry as far back the beginning of African slavery in the New World. It would be a mistake to think that U.S. Latinos/as form a monolithic and homogeneous group. In addition to their racial and ethnic differences, they are diverse in other ways including: economic status; political preferences; religious affiliations; education, language proficiency in both English and Spanish; rates of assimilation into U.S. society; ongoing connections to their countries of origin; customs; and cultural practices. It is this last aspect of U.S. Latino/a culture that led to the creation of the Encyclopedia of Latino Culture.
When I was asked by the editors at Greenwood Press to edit this three-volume publication, I did not hesitate. I knew that this would this would afford me a marvelous opportunity to become more knowledgeable about the breadth of U.S. Latino/a culture because most of my published research and teaching had been focused on the literature and popular culture of Mexican Americans. I knew also that in seeking out contributors to write the various entries, I would become better acquainted with experts in many different aspects of U.S. Latino/a culture. These were somewhat selfish reasons for taking on what became a two-year project, but I also believed that such an encyclopedia designed for the general reader and the high school student would be different and more accessible than similar projects. I am now in the final year of my long academic career, and am gratified that bringing this huge project to fruition will, I hope, contribute to an overall better understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural contributions and customs of U.S. Latinos/as.
Charles M. Tatum, PhD, is the editor of the forthcoming, Encyclopedia of Latino Culture: From Calaveras to Quinceañeras, November 2013, ISBN: 978-1-4408-0098-6
He is Professor of Spanish and Chicano Studies at the University of Arizona. He was for fifteen years dean of College of Humanities. He has written and edited several books on Chicana/o literature and popular culture including Chicano Popular Culture: Que hable el pueblo (2001), Chicano and Chicana Literature: Otra voz del pueblo (2006) and Lowriders in Chicano Culture: From Low to Slow to Show (2001). He the co-founder of the journal, Studies in Latin American Popular Culture.