Millions of Americans trace their roots back to Spain, Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Lasting from September 15th through October 15th, National Hispanic Heritage Month is an official celebration honoring their collective ancestry. Wondering what this annual event is all about? Read on for a roundup of four frequently asked questions about the month-long observation of Hispanic Heritage Month.

1. What does National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrate?

Hispanic Heritage Month first began in 1968 as a week-long celebration. Now in its 50th year, it has grown to span an entire month. According to its website, National Heritage Month “pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.” This includes everyone from actors and sports legends to activists and Supreme Court justices.

Wondering why this observation starts and ends mid-month? Not only does the 15th of September cover the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, but Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their own independence days within the subsequent week, and the national day of Spain, the Fiesta Nacional de España, falls today (the 12th of October).

2. What happens during Hispanic Heritage Month?

A better question might be: what doesn’t happen during this exciting event. The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum all come together to honor and celebrate the history, culture and contributions of Hispanics to the US.

From family day at the National Zoo focused on wildlife and conservation in Central and South America, to a conversation with Latino member of Congress Pete Aguilar, Hispanic Heritage Month comprises a packed calendar of informative and entertaining activities.

3. Why is Hispanic Heritage Month so important?

NBC Latino explains, “For most Latino families, celebrating culture is not particularly difficult. It frequently permeates our lifestyle, embedding itself in our psyche. But this is the perfect opportunity to delve more deeply into the history of our ancestors and help create an intimate knowledge of the role that Latinos have played in US history, as well as the effect they've had on our culture.”

Doing so can have a profound impact on kids, according to the results of an investigation published in the academic journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Specifically, researchers determined that Latino children who grew up in bi-cultural environments were more likely to have higher self-esteem and less likely to suffer from behavioral problems.

In short, learning about the contributions of their ancestors makes kids feel more proud and connected -- both to their communities and to the country.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month has benefits for non-Hispanics, too. Learning about other people and cultures enriches our perspectives, particularly in our fragile times. “In the new American conversation, cultural celebrations like these matter, and they matter greatly. They help us better explain our Hispanic story to each other and ourselves; they matter for the individual and national psyche, because they allow the 50 million-plus Hispanics, and the larger American family, to better appreciate the Hispanic story within the greater American narrative” argues Sandra Guzmán for CNN.

4. How can students celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

In addition to participating in activities and events on campus and in their communities, students can commit to learning more about the contributions of Hispanics by looking into taking a Hispanic Studies class. From coursework in Spanish language and literature to history and art, there are many ways to broaden your own understanding of the vital contributions of Hispanics.

Or, commit to learning more informally by visiting a Latin American art museum, cooking a festive meal, or reading a book about a Hispanic hero, such as union leader and labor organizer Cesar Chavez, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, or baseball great Roberto Clemente.

Chavez once said, “We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community - and this nation.” We can think of no better occasion to commit to this imperative than during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Have you done anything special to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month? If so, please let us know in the comments section.

And happy Hispanic Heritage Month to all of our Hispanic and non-Hispanic friends!