By Elvia Kelly, Special to The FrontlineOctober 1, 2010
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Soldiers and Family Members came to Club Stewart to celebrate Hispanic Heritage festivities, Sept. 22.
From live Latin music performances to displays of Hispanic decorations from countries such as Mexico and Panama, the Club Stewart Ballroom was filled with Soldiers, Families and guests celebrating the event.
Hispanic Heritage month celebrates the independence day of several countries in Latin America.
The anniversary of independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua is Sept. 15. Mexico declared its independence on Sept. 16, and Chile on Sept. 18. In honor these Latin countries declaring their independence, September marks the month in which people gather around and celebrate the Hispanic-American festivities.
Performers representing the traditional dances of Latin countries shined in their colorful outfits and rhythmic dance moves.
"I feel very proud to represent Panama," said Sabina Bentely, a performer representing the folkloric dance of Panama and director of Orgullo PanameAfA+-a Dance, Inc. "'El Congo' is a dynamic type of dance in the sense that one's feet are used a lot. The dance is very free."
"El Congo" is a traditional dance style originating from remote areas of Panama's Atlantic coast. El Congo has grown in popularity that it is now practiced throughout the provinces of Panama, and performed in the U.S. The dance style tells a story or life experience using expressions of the hands, feet and rhythmic flow of the body.
Lawrence Knight, Bentely's dance partner, has been performing for years. He said he first learned from his mother, who is a native of Panama.
"I feel I'm not doing [the performance] for myself but for everyone else," said Knight. "It feels great [to dance]."
Knight recently graduated high school and joined the Army as an active duty Soldier. He leaves for Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training in the upcoming year, where he will receive training as a tanker.
Performers Pablo Rodriguez and Maria Hernandez, performing a traditional Mexican dance, said they feel proud to share their culture.
"I like to show the Americans [that Hispanics] are from different countries," said Hernandez, who also performed dance styles from the Dominican Republic. "I [dance] with a lot of pride."
The festivities included a dance that invited members of the audience on stage. Colonel Kevin Milton, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander; Col. Paul Cordts, Winn Army Community Hospital commander; and guest speaker Command Sgt. Maj. Maria Martinez, Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Army Diversity Task Force, Headquarters, Department of the Army; were among those who took to the dance floor.
Soldiers and Family Members watched the performances from the crowd, some cheering for their respective Latin countries while others simply enjoying the event.
"I like it. There's Latin music representing Hispanic cultures," said Nereida Rojas, a Family Member who attended the festivities. "I like that they have the flag of every country. I get emotional when I see my Puerto Rican flag. I feel a sense of pride."
Sergeant First Class Alvin Banks, event coordinator and 3rd Infantry Division's Equal Opportunity advisor, asked Command Sgt. Maj. Martinez to be the guest speaker.
"We felt she would be ideal," he said. "She would understand what it means, the diversity of the Army. She can relate. Diversity is very important in the Army. Soldiers and Families need to be educated on the role Hispanics play in our military and our country as a whole."
During her speech, Command Sgt. Maj. Martinez took a moment to express her gratitude to Hispanic Soldiers, Families and the event coordinators.
"Thank you for all that you do," she said. "For all the effort you put into this program."
As the festivities came to an end, Soldiers, Families, visitors and guests made their way to the dining area where they enjoyed Latin food and drinks.