ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Attendees at the annual Hispanic Heritage Month observance enjoyed food samples, festive music, and a message of community support for Hispanics delivered by Zenaida Landeros, the first female executive director of the Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, here, Oct. 17.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually from Sept. 15 - Oct. 15.
The theme for 2019 is "Honoring Hispanic Americans: Essential to the Blueprint of Our Nation." The observation celebrates the contributions of American citizens who have ancestors from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

According to Staff Sgt. Melanie Garcia, who served as mistress of ceremonies, G1 (Human Resources), U.S. Army Sustainment Command, this year's theme invites all to reflect on Hispanic Americans' vitality and meaningful legacy in the nation's cultural framework.

Before the ceremony began, Adam Hocker, general manager, Company Kitchen, kept the food buffet well stocked. Sgt. 1st Class Babatunde Akala, ASC, equal opportunity advisor, said the committee chose the menu that included tortillas, carnitas, sopapillas with cinnamon sugar or honey, and iced horchata, a milky sweet rice drink.

The observance included a performance by the Sonora Sozon De Antano Band. Omar Alaniz, led the band on conga drums and vocals. Before each song he talked about the origin of the song in terms of musical style and location. The five-member band performed two cumbias, a salsa, and a smooth bolero.

"I personally know this song, and that's why I'm laughing," Garcia said after the band played the final cumbia, referencing the lyrics.

Guest speaker Landeros, lamented how difficult it was to "go right after the band."

A Moline, Illinois, native and Augustana College graduate, Landeros has been involved with the chamber since 2008.

She shared a history of local contributions made in the 1930s when railroad workers of Mexican descent first settled in Silvis, Illinois. As employees of the railroad, the workers first lived in boxcars on a street eventually named "Hero Street" in May 1967. More than 100 men and women from this street have served in the U.S. military.

Landeros explained that Latinos are the nation's largest minority group at 18% and that 86% of new business formation involves Latinos. "It is contributions like this that shape our nation. Hispanics are taxpayers, job creators, educators, builders, but first and foremost - Hispanics are Americans."

Landeros said the mission of the Hispanic Chamber is to connect businesses to the resources available to support them and the community. The chamber has more than 200 members who employ 42,000 full-time and 2,800 part-time workers.

Col. Beth Behn, chief of staff, ASC, thanked all the contributors and presented Landeros with a plaque of appreciation.

"We can probably all kind of close our eyes and think about the different people we've served with over the years, who have shown us a different perspective, and made us have a better understanding of the nation that we've all sworn to defend," said Col. Beth Behn, chief of staff, ASC. "So events like this reinforce that to me, the incredible strength through diversity that our force benefits from."