National Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from September 15 to October 15, is the time set aside in the U.S. to celebrate the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to society and culture.

Here are nine things you should know about this yearly observance and about Hispanics in America.

1. The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. It was later expanded to Hispanic Heritage Month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.

2. The day of September 15 is significant in Hispanic culture because it’s the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza, falls on October 12.

3. Hispanic is a term applied to the ethnic group that consists of people from Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish cultures. Hispanic is not a race and the term can be applied to a person from any racial group (White/Caucasian, Black/African American, Asian, etc.) or a mix of racial groups. (Nearly half of Hispanics identify their racial category as White.)

4. In 1997, the United States Government officially expanded the enthnic categorization from Hispanic to “Hispanic or Latino.” The reasoning was that Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion. But while Hispanic and Latino have a considerable degree of overlap, the terms are not interchangeable. Hispanic come from Hispania, the Latin word for “Spain” while Latino is believed to be an English derivation of the Spanish word latinoamericano. Hispanic is therefore used to refer to people from Spanish-speaking countries (e.g., Spain, Central America) while Latino refers to those of Latin-American descent even if they do not speak Spanish (e.g., some Brazilians).

5. In 2014, the U.S. Hispanic population was over over 54.1 million, making them the nation’s second-largest of any racial or ethnic group in America. Today Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, up from 5 percent in 1970. Only Mexico (120 million) had a larger Hispanic population than the United States.

6. Of those of Hispanic origin in the U.S., 64 percent were of Mexican background in 2013. Another 9.5 percent were of Puerto Rican background, 3.7 percent Cuban, 3.7 percent Salvadoran, 3.3 percent Dominican, and 2.4 percent Guatemalan. The remainder was of some other Central American, South American, or other Hispanic or Latino origin.

7. In 2014, a survey found that a majority of Latino adults (55 percent) say they are Catholic, while 16 percent are evangelical Protestants and 5 percent are mainline Protestants. Mexicans and Dominicans are more likely than other Hispanic origin groups to say they are Catholic, while Salvadorans are more likely to say they are evangelical Protestants than do Mexicans, Cubans, and Dominicans.

8. About eight-in-ten Hispanic churchgoers in the U.S. (82 percent) say their church offers Spanish-language services, 75 percent say there is Hispanic clergy at their church, and 61 percent say that most or all of the other people they worship with also are Hispanic. More than half (51 percent) say the place of worship they attend most often has all three of these characteristics.

9. Nearly six-in-ten Hispanic churchgoers (57 percent) say their church maintains close ties with countries in Latin America by sending money or missionaries to these countries or receiving clergy from countries in the region. About one-in-five Hispanics say that their place of worship does not maintain close ties to Latin American countries (21 percent) and the same share say they do not know if this is the case (21 percent).

Other articles in this series:

Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Margaret Sanger • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • C.S. Lewis • Orphans • Halloween and Reformation Day • World Hunger • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 6th Street Baptist Church Bombing • 9/11 Attack Aftermath • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues