Raoul Lowery Contreras

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — the date of the Mexican and Central American struggle for independence from Spain. There are some who wonder why the United States formally observes Hispanic heritage. Here are some reasons why.

With each second on the clock, the American Hispanic population is growing. Fifty-eight million and counting. Each second, new Hispanic-owned businesses are being formed. Each second, more Hispanics are graduating from high school and attending and graduating from college.

While the Hispanic high school dropout rate is still higher than among whites (5 percent), blacks (7 percent) and Asians (1 percent), it has plummeted from 32 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2014.

Hispanic college enrollment has, with a 13 percent increase from 22 percent (in 1993) to 35 percent in 2014, raced past a five percent increase for whites, and nine percent for blacks and Asian Americans, according to Pew Research.

In 1950, the Mexican-American in California had just an eighth-grade education (when this writer was 9 years old).

In that year, there were so few Hispanic-owned businesses that they were statistically insignificant. It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan was elected president with a solid Hispanic vote in 1980 that Hispanic businesses and their formation came to public attention. Hispanics created businesses under Reagan and Bush (41) at 2.5 times the rate of non-Hispanics. But that was nothing.

Stanford University’s Graduate Business Department and the “501 (c) 3” non-profit Latino Business Action Network studied Hispanic and all other business formations between 2007 and 2012. The study presented fantastic numbers; we are talking about an economic miracle.

Hispanic small business formations in the U.S. grew 46.9 percent between 2007 and 2012; non-Hispanic businesses grew by a tiny 0.7 percent. With 18 percent of the American population, Hispanics own 12 percent of small business and are opening new ones every day.

The study also shows that 80 percent of Hispanic small business works with and sells to the general population, not just to fellow Hispanics. It also showed that Hispanic small business relies on personal savings, credit cards and business revenue to start, build and grow businesses because they have little access to capital.

California has the largest Hispanic population; thus, it has the most Hispanic-owned businesses. Forty percent of California is Hispanic, a plurality. Twenty-three percent of all California small business is Hispanic-owned, and is also growing with a 43.9 percent growth between 2007 and 2012. 

Great Hispanic education progress; great Hispanic business growth. Why else do we celebrate Hispanic America?

A few weeks ago, I was invited to celebrate the commissioning of America’s newest warship — the U.S.S. Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) — named after a San Diego/Tijuana Mexican citizen who was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. The Marine was posthumously awarded a Navy cross, the country’s second highest military award. This is the first-ever U.S. Navy warship named for a Mexican citizen. He was made a citizen after his death.

Mexicans and other Hispanics have militarily served this nation before there was a United States. They started before 1779 when the Spanish Governor General Bernardo Galvez at New Orleans secretly helped Americans by sending supplies up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to American fighters.

When Spain joined the Americans in making war on the British in 1779, 200 Spanish, Mexican and Cuban militiamen met 1,200 Brits and Indian allies at what is now St. Louis. They not only defeated the British, but chased them back to Canada, catching them again in what is now Michigan and defeated them again.

Their greatest Hispanic contribution to American independence came in defeating the British at Baton Rouge (La.), Mobile (Ala.) and the mighty British fort at Pensacola (Fla.) that dominated the Gulf of Mexico. Nary a Yankee was in sight.

Spanish, Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican forces under General Galvez numbered 7,800 fighting soldiers and sailors, the same number as the French forces in the War of Independence.

Hispanics fighting for America started in 1779 and continued in the Civil War when the U.S. Army said 9,000 Mexican Americans and Mexican citizens fought on the Union side. It continued through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and continues in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2015, 12 percent of all U.S. military were Hispanics. 

Today, 18 percent of the U.S. Marine Corps is Hispanic — mostly Mexican-American — and some like Navy Cross awardee Sgt. Rafael Peralta are even Mexican citizens.

Setting aside education and business, Hispanics fighting for America since before there was a United States of America through today is reason enough to celebrate and observe Hispanic Heritage. Hispanic heritage is American heritage.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade." He previously wrote for the New York Times’ New American News Service.