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Walter Reed Bethesda Observes Hispanic Heritage Month


By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications​

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.

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Douglas Francodeleon served as guest speaker at the observance. Born in Guatemala, Francodeleon explained the challenges his parents endured in leaving their native country with her children in order to give them a better life in America. Civil war in Guatemala caused it to experience instability and strife, Francodeleon continued. He recalled the peril they faced as his mother carried him and his brother across the border out of the country.​