"What would it be like if there were no Latinos in the United States?"

That question served as the cornerstone of a speech given by Cecilia Nadal at the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood Hispanic Heritage Month Observance, hosted by the Noncommissioned Officers Academy, Oct. 12 at Pershing Community Center.

Nadal, executive director of Gitana Productions, a cultural arts and education organization in St. Louis, spoke about the impact of Hispanic culture in the nation. The child of an African-American mother and a Hispanic father, Nadal moved around the world throughout her father's military career. Her upbringing led to her seeking a career in bringing cultures together through cross' cultural experiences.

"All of my impulses as an Afro-Latina woman are to bring people together," said Nadal, who has shared her experiences at previous Equal Opportunity events.

"What would it be like if we had no influence of Latinos in the United States? For me personally, it would probably mean my journey to cross-cultural acceptances would have been longer, would have been tougher, because I would not have had the wonderful perspective that comes from a place where diversity is so natural," Nadal said.

Her father was a black man from Puerto Rico with a Hispanic accent. For him, diversity was a natural part of his culture, and it was a sentiment that he shared with his daughter.

Nadal said Hispanic culture has always been one that welcomes inclusion. She said the Spanish in St. Augustine, Florida established the first colony in the United States in 1565. Although the colony had slavery, their treatment of slaves was different than the English and the French.

"The Spanish had Indian and African slaves, but they were known for allowing slaves to go to court if they were mistreated. That is a unique aspect of slavery when we look at English, French and Spanish," she said, adding that often slaves were known to flee other colonies to escape to Florida.

"Though they were part of this terrible institution of slavery, they had a sensibility about people who were different having the right to go to court," Nadal said. "I have always felt the destiny of Latino people is to act as an ambassador to show what inclusion really is."

Nadal also highlighted the contributions of Hispanics, not just those of European decent, but those from indigenous cultures in South America, which she noted is often overlooked.

"The influence of native people is huge," Nadal said, noting that most Mexicans are of native decent.

"Latinos are resilient, proud and ready to go for the long haul no matter what it takes," Nadal said. She encouraged each audience member to ask himself or herself what life would be like without Latino influences.

"Sometimes we have to lead with a passion for inclusion for (it) to become contagious and that is the role I think Hispanics, will, and have played in the United States of America," she added.

Aside from Nadal's speech, community members were also treated to Hispanic music and dance performances.

1st Sgt. Daphne Thomas, a 3rd Chemical Brigade Soldier of Hispanic heritage, performed Latino dances with her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Benson Thomas.

Daphne said participating in the ceremony was important to her because she believes in EO programs.

"This was an opportunity to us to support the program and showcase our talent," she said. "My husband and I have always loved dancing."

Benson said the program helps the community see into different cultures and learn more about inclusion. Something he and Daphne were glad to help with.

"It is important for my wife and I to showcase our skills and pass on the word, through dancing or speech, it gives insight to those that might not have an understanding," Benson said.