Every year, Americans celebrate National Hispanic heritage Month from September 15 through October 15. What began as Hispanic heritage Week in 1968 was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 31-day period.

The purpose of this month-long celebration is to recognize the cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The kick-off date of September 15 was chosen because that date is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

From Spain to Mexico to the Caribbean to Central and South America, Hispanic culture includes a broad and diverse group of people from many different regions around the world. Despite this diversity, these people have many things in common.

One of the common features of Hispanic cultures is large, close-knit families. Since Spanish is the native language of almost all Hispanic cultures, most Hispanic cultures use similar names for family members.

One of the important members of most Hispanic families is the abuela. In Spanish, grandmothers are called abuela or abuelita. Grandfathers are called abuelo or abuelito. Shortened forms, such as lito, lita, tito and tita are also common.

In most Hispanic families, grandparents are respected family members who see themselves as important figures in the lives of their grandchildren. Many Hispanic grandparents choose to live with or near their children, so that they can play an important role in passing along the Spanish language and Hispanic culture to their grandchildren.

Of course, grandparents are important in many cultures. The wisdom and perspective that comes with age gives most grandparents the patience, love and knowledge to play important roles in the lives of their grandchildren.

So who is your abuela? Do you have great memories of time you’ve spent with your grandparents? What have you learned from them?

In honor of National Hispanic heritage Month, pay tribute to your own heritage — whether you’re Hispanic or not — by telling those who have helped to make you the person you are just how much you appreciate them!

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