By Bernard S. Little
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center celebrated
National Hispanic Heritage Month with a special program Sept. 27 in the America
Building piano foyer.
Annually celebrated from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the
nation observes Hispanic Heritage Month to salute the histories, cultures and
contributions of individuals whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the
Caribbean, and Central and South America. The observance began in 1968 as
Hispanic Heritage Week through legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Edward R.
Roybal, who in 1976 became a founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and
posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack
Obama in November 2014. It was expanded to a month by legislation U.S. Rep.
Esteban E. Torres sponsored in 1988 and enacted into law in August of that year.
September 15 was chosen as the starting point for the
celebration because it is the anniversary of the independence of five Latin
American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
– which all declared their independence in 1821. Mexico, Chile and Belize also celebrate
their independence days on Sept. 16, Sept. 18 and Sept. 21, respectively. In
addition, Día de la Raza (Columbus Day), Oct. 12, is observed in many countries
of the Americas and falls within this 30-day period. Día de la Raza (translated
as “Day of the Race”) celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’
arrival in the Americas.
During the Hispanic Heritage Month observance sponsored by
the Multicultural Committee at Walter Reed Bethesda, Naval Support Activity
Bethesda Chaplain (Navy Lt. Cmdr.) David Jeltema said the Hispanic community
includes a “rich tapestry of cultures, languages and racial heritages”
contributing to art, music, literature, architecture, cuisine, technology,
medicine, politics and more. “Through all of these contributions, our country
and our world have become more a beautiful [and] loving place,” he said.
Jeltema praised leaders of Hispanic heritage in their
efforts to create equality for all people, including labor leader and civil
rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, “who fought for justice and
equal rights.” He also said engineer, former astronaut and the 11th Director
of the Johnson Space Center (from January 2013 to May 2018), Ellen Ochoa, JSC's
first Hispanic and second female director, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia
Sotomayor (the Supreme Court’s first justice of Hispanic descent and the first
Latina), along with others of Hispanic ancestry, serve as role models and
inspire others to strive to achieve success and better their communities.
Army Col. (Dr.) Rodney S. Gonzalez, WRNMMC chief of staff,
agreed, adding America’s culture comprises many cultures, including those from Hispanic
countries and communities, which deserve recognition.