The Spanish Language Blog

Christopher Columbus arrived to the Americas for the first time on October 12, 1492. The historic event marks an important change in the course of the history of the Western world, as it lead to permanent contact between Europe and the Americas. The day is officially observed in a variety of ways and called a variety of names in much of Latin America, the US and Spain. 

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October 12 in Spain

Spanish law establishes it as the Fiesta Nacional de España, or the national day of Spain, although many Spaniards continue referring to it as Día de la Hispanidad, which was the former name of the Spanish holiday. The law goes on to explain that the day is commemorated because it symbolizes the expansion of Spanish language and culture beyond European borders. Spanish is spoken by 414 million native speakers, of which only 46 million live in Spain.

When the day was first celebrated in Spain in 1914, it was originally called “fiesta de la raza” in the hopes of creating a holiday that would celebrate unity between Spain and Ibero-America. Just a few years later, the Spanish priest Zacarías de Vizcarra proposed replacing the term raza with hispanidad, a new term coined for the occasion.

October 12 in Latin America

October 12 is still known as el Día de la Raza in some Latin American countries including Mexico. Other Latin American countries however, that once commemorated the day as el Día de la Raza have in recent years changed the name to honor diversity or to celebrate indigenous heritage. In Costa Rica, the day is known as the Día de las Culturas (Day of the cultures), in Argentina it’s Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of respect of cultural diversity), in Venezuala Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance), and in Bolivia Día de la Descolonización (Day of decolonization). In Cuba it is not observed as a holiday. 

Many US states also observe October 12 as a holiday, where it is usually referred to as Columbus Day, but not always; attitudes about how the day should be defined are changing there also. The state of South Dakota for example now celebrates Native American Day on the second Monday of October, and the city of Los Angeles has replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

October 12 - Spanish Language Day

In 2010, the United Nations declared October 12 Spanish Language Day to celebrate cultural diversity and to encourage the “equal use” of all 6 of the UN’s official languages throughout the organization.

October 12 is observed in different ways in the US and around the Spanish speaking world, where it has been redefined throughout history. Today, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers and it is spoken as an official or main language in 21 different countries.


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