As an immigrant from Peru who arrived to America solo at the age of 17 in 1989, John Lema is grateful for the life he built in this country. Now as president of the in Newark, New Jersey, Lema and his coworkers, friends and elected officials will honor their heritage with a flag raising ceremony during National Hispanic Heritage Month.
“It means a lot to me, not only because I’m Hispanic, but because Newark is such a multicultural city,” said Lema, 51.
Each year, Americans observe from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It’s a celebration of the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Why does the heritage month begin in the middle of the month? It’s due to the significance of Sept. 15 as it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and September 18. There’s also Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza, which is the second Monday in October celebrating the Spanish explorer.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting Sept. 15 and ending Oct. 15. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
The 2023 theme for Hispanic Heritage Month is “Prosperity, Power, and Progress,” recognizing the significant achievements of the Hispanic community in the economic and political industries.
The U.S. Hispanic population reached 62.1 million in 2020, accounting for 19% of all Americans and making it the nation’s second-largest racial or ethnic group, behind White Americans and ahead of Black Americans, according to the . It is also one of the fastest-growing groups in the U.S. Between 2010 and 2020, the country’s Hispanic population grew 23%, up from 50.5 million in 2010.
In the three-plus decades since he’s been in New Jersey, Lema definitely sees progress when it comes to the power and progress of the Latino constituency. Now a father to three children and grandfather to eight, Lema thinks it gets better with each generation.
This will be the fifth year that Lema’s organization — which is a nonprofit that provides services for the Latino community of Newark — will host a flag raising ceremony during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“Newark definitely has come together. We see equal opportunity,” he said.