JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – The smell of food, sounds of music and traditional dancing were on display as the Soldiers and civilians assigned to United States Army South (ARSOUTH) officially kicked off National Hispanic Heritage Month on the morning of Sept. 16, 2022 with a celebration of culture in front of the headquarters building.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 since it was expanded from its original week-long celebration by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. The mid-month start and end dates are significant to Hispanic heritage with five countries celebrating their independence on Sept. 15 along with numerous others throughout the date range.
“It’s important to celebrate all history and culture and our Army would not be what it is today with the contributions and successes of Hispanic Americans,” explained Sgt. 1st Class James Davis, U.S. Army South’s Equal Opportunity Advisor and National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration event coordinator. “Their contributions throughout history are found throughout the Army including right here at Army South, which can be seen in our Hall of Honor where we inducted retired Lieutenant General Marc Cisneros earlier this year.”
During his service, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Cisneros served as the commanding general of ARSOUTH and Joint Task Force Panama during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 and 1990 which led to the successful capture of Gen. Manuel Noriega.
The theme of this year’s celebration is Unidos – Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation. According to the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) website, Unidos can be translated to mean “united,” “connected” or “close.”
“We are a multicultural Army made up of Soldiers from all backgrounds and walks of life, so I believe Unidos is a great word to sum up the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month,” said Davis. “Throughout our Army and throughout Army South this concept is an important aspect of who we are, and it truly makes us a stronger more cohesive unit.”
Dr. Hector Martinez, guest speaker for the event said, “Hispanic cultures around the world are unique in their own ways but share a common core of similarities; a certain inner-pride in what it means to be Hispanic.”
He continued his remarks by recognizing two Hispanic American leaders, Medal of Honor recipient Master Sgt. Leroy Petry and community activist Lizzie Vasquez, and by challenging those in attendance to follow their lead and make a difference in their community whether they are Hispanic American or not.
With a month dedicated to celebrating the achievements, histories, contributions and cultures of Americans with Hispanic ancestry, ARSOUTH will benefit greatly by having a more profound understanding of the partner nations they work with on a regular, sometimes daily, basis.
ARSOUTH’s area of responsibility encompasses 31 nations and 15 areas of special sovereignty with almost 500 million people speaking over 100 different languages. Soldiers and civilians assigned to the command regularly travel throughout the region building and strengthening relationships with many of these countries promoting unity and cooperation throughout the Western Hemisphere.
“It’s good for non-Latin American U.S. citizens to know what their neighbors are like, what their culture and backgrounds are and to understand that the fusion of our culture brings about something beautiful,” explained Mexican American Maj. Teddy Villasenorloya, one of ARSOUTH’s Foreign Area Officers. “Whether it’s professional engagements or military engagements, we can go out there and make friends with everybody since we know each other’s backgrounds.”
Closing out the celebration, participants browsed the various table displays set up in front of the headquarters building to gain a deeper cultural understanding of some of the countries found throughout Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.