WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 28, 2011) -- Usually celebrated at an outdoor venue, the West Point annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration was held at Robinson Auditorium Sept. 23 instead of Trophy Point due to persistent rain.

More than 200 cadets, staff and faculty and members of the West Point and Highland Falls community gathered to celebrate the annual observance, which lasts through Oct. 15.

The event was a success despite the rain with cadets and other attendees dancing in the aisles with the Cadet Combat Salsa Team, an offshoot of the Cadet Spanish Club, dancing to the music of Orquesta Sensacion. Participants also enjoyed sampling a variety of Colombian, Peruvian and Mexican food----always a favorite at the celebration.

Class of 2012 Cadet Pablo Rivera was the master of ceremonies and cadet-in-charge for the second year in a row.

"I've been involved in the Cadet Spanish Club since my plebe year," Rivera said. "This event is part of our mission observance, like celebrating Black History Month or Asian Pacific Month. It's important to get involved with the community (to celebrate diversity.)"

Rivera said the Hispanic Heritage Month observance is a demonstration of the presence and unity of Latin cultures such as Chile, Honduras and other Central and South American countries.

The Cadet Combat Salsa Team invited attendees to join them near the stage to dance, but they also went into the audience and selected partners to learn the salsa. It wasn't long before the aisle was crowded with dancers, some taking direction from team members and others simply enjoying the music.

There has been a long tradition of Hispanic cadets dating back to 1816 when international cadets from Chile arrived at West Point and again in 1889 when international cadets from Guatemala arrived.

As the event MC, Rivera reminded the audience of the contributions to West Point by Hispanics. Maj. Gen. Luis Estevez was the first Hispanic to graduate from West Point with the "Class of Generals" in 1915.

Estevez often tutored classmate Dwight Eisenhower and remained friends with the former president after graduation.

Estevez was also the founder of the Puerto Rican National Guard. Dr. Richard Morales Jr. was the first Puerto Rican selected as First Captain for the Class of 1976 and graduated as a Rhodes Scholar.

The West Point Equal Opportunity Office, Cadet Spanish Club and the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic hosted the event, which is celebrated annually to raise awareness of a variety of Hispanic cultures through music, dance and food.

The Hispanic Heritage Festival will be followed by Diversity Day, which occurs in October. Preparations are already under way for this event which promises to be both educational and fun.

It will be held in Thayer Hall on the 3rd Floor from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 11, and will showcase the diverse groups that make up the Corps of Cadets to include not just different nationalities and cultures, but also religions and cadet groups.