Sept. 15, thru Oct. 15, is Hispanic Heritage Month and a time set aside to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans to American Society and Culture.

Hispanic Americans can trace their ancestral beginnings to more than 20 different countries, all with unique cultural differences.

Hispanic Americans played a key role in the struggle for Civil Rights in America. You're probably familiar with land mark Supreme Court case "Brown v. Board of Education" which overturned "Plessy v. Ferguson" decision which stated "separate but equal." But, did you know that the precedents for this case were fought out seven years earlier by Hispanic Americans in a California federal court? "Mendez, et al v. Westminster School District, et al" In its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican American students into separate "Mexican schools" was unconstitutional.

Hispanic Americans have much to be proud of in the way of their heritage and contributions to the nation and to Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. On a broader scale, forty-four Hispanic Americans have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (our nation's highest award for conspicuous gallantry and heroism on the battlefield) since the award's inception.

Following are several SDDC Hispanic American Soldiers and civilians sharing nuggets of information about their heritage that we may not have known otherwise.
Susan Ortiz, SDDC Human Resources: The first thing that comes to my mind is pride. We are very proud of our Puerto Rican roots. Puerto Ricans call themselves "Boricua" Puerto Ricans -- a blend of Spanish, Taino, Indian and African cultures.

Being Puerto Rican means love for our family and love for our island. Whether they live in Puerto Rico, Maine, New York, Florida, Illinois, or even Japan, no matter how far away, we love fiercely and we are there for each other. The next thing that comes to mind is Puerto Rican cuisine or "cocina criolla" a unique blend of Spanish, Taino Indian, American and culinary traditions. Holidays are a Puerto Rican food extravaganza.

Under Spanish rule, then American rule, Puerto Rico has never been an independent nation. Puerto Ricans are American citizens from birth and can legally enter and leave the mainland. A fun fact about Puerto Rico is, the island is a beautiful, sunny, island paradise that's only a 4-hour flight from St. Louis to San Juan.
Sgt. 1st Class Aileen Cason, SDDC Command Group: The name Guatemala means" Land of the Trees" in the Maya-Toltec language. There are two main races found in Guatemala, the westernized being the Ladino/Mestizo race (a mix of Spanish and Native Indian) and the indigenous Mayan descendents. One of the biggest similarities that bring all Latinos together is our language. We all speak a form of Spanish thanks to the explorers hundreds of years ago. With that being said, half of the Guatemalan population are still indigenous and speak their native dialect with roots dating back to the Mayan times. They continue to live, eat and dress in brightly colored weaved cloth just like their Mayan ancestors.

There are many foods that share common names with other Latin countries however they can be completely different. A trademark of Guatemalan foods that I enjoy when I visit is the unique candy. They are made using a variety of fruits, nuts, and seeds. My favorites are made of coconut and condensed milk.

Music, as with the whole Latin community, is big in Guatemala. In fact, hiring a Mariachi group to come and play at your house is pretty easy and fairly cheap in Guatemala.

Religion is big in Guatemala, as I was raised Roman Catholic, being the largest religion within the Latino race. Anywhere you go you will find huge churches even in small villages we visited.

Some interesting facts about Guatemala that many may not know are that the Mayan people were very developed in Math and Astronomy. The concept of "zero" can be attributed to the Mayans. Guatemala is also the world's leading producer of jade. The country is filled with volcanoes, mountains, and beaches on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Three of Guatemala's volcanoes are still active. One erupted a couple of weeks ago and is known as the "Fire Volcano". Lake Atitlan, the biggest lake in Central America covering 48 square miles and 900 feet deep was formed when a volcano erupted over 84,000 years ago.
1st Lt. Anthony Joyce, SDDC Command Group: I've had the pleasure of growing up in two very unique cultures. I was able to experience the cultures of my father's family, of Irish decent, and my mother's family which moved from Puerto Rico to Miami, Fla., when she was young. As a child, I grew up in Miami. Although I never came to fully speak Spanish, I did find enjoyment in the Puerto Rican culture and it has impacted my life now as an adult.

Most Americans do not fully understand how Puerto Rico is in fact very different than all other Hispanic countries due to its unique relationship with the United States. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Puerto Rico was seceded to the United States and in 1917 the United States granted all Puerto Ricans citizenship into the United States, which remains today.

Puerto Ricans also have a long history of serving in the US military. Currently, more than 10,000 Native Puerto Ricans are on active duty in today's Armed Forces. This figure does not include individuals of Puerto Rican decent, such as myself, that were born within the continental United States.
Another interesting fact about Puerto Rico is that their first governor was Juan Ponce de Leon, the famed Spanish conquistador who is known for being the first European explorer to lead an expedition to Florida and also for his search for the legendary Fountain of Youth. It is clear that since its founding as a Spanish colony in the early 1500's up until today, that Puerto Rico shares a unique bond with the United States. Its cultural heritage and customs continue to flourish highlighting America as a true melting pot.
John Martinez, SDDC Command Operations Center: My father was the youngest of 12 kids and the first generation of this family born in the United States. My father's sisters & aunts taught my mother (who is not Mexican) how to cook his favorite Mexican foods.

Authentic enchiladas literally take hours to make. After cooking & shredding the chicken, there are still many steps to take. Our kitchen counter looked like an assembly line. It started at the stove & stretched down the counter & over to the table. Corn tortillas went first into hot oil briefly (one at a time). They were then transferred to a pan with tomato-based enchilada sauce. Each was filled with meat, cheese & onion; rolled & placed on the tray. When the tray was full, more sauce was poured over the top. A healthy topping of shredded cheese made the tray ready to cover with foil for the oven. There would be trays upon trays when she was finally done, but they never lasted long. I'm not sure they ever made it to the freezer. We just couldn't resist.

I used to watch my Mom cook and remember the smells filling the house for hours. Enchiladas were a treat we could expect only on weekends because they are so time consuming to make. It was a labor of love that I appreciated. To this day, enchiladas are a favorite.
Araceli Caro, SDDC Logistics: Family is the most important part of being a Hispanic from the older generation to the youngest. Taking care of the family and being together means generations of knowledge, our history is passed to the youngest generations by our elders. Our history, traditions, values, food and much more is passed generation thru generation. That is why it is an important factor that the younger generation is involved with the older generation. Traditionally, Hispanics take care of their older parents at home and in return they help in the raising of the younger generation.

I was born in the United States but raised in Mexico, because of this, I had the experience to learn my cultures past, and making the traditions we carry today. Pride is very important in our culture and represents who we are and guides us through our lives to choose right from wrong. This is learned thru are families and is the building block of the Hispanic society.

For the most part, religious beliefs are a very important role and it plays a great role in our ethical values. In today' fast pace society, you can still see in many communities in Mexico, and even in the United States, that Hispanics seem to have a very relaxed attitude when it comes to getting things done.

The society is held up with the bonds of the family, religion and tradition. The one thing that sets Hispanics apart from other cultures is their hospitality, as we always say "MI CASA ES SU CASA." We like to treat others with respect and dignity no matter who they are, where they come from or if they are rich or poor.
Giorgio Cabrera, SDDC Information Technology: When you think of Cuba the first thing that comes to mind is usually something you learned in a history class, on the news or from firsthand experience at Guantanamo Bay. Well, let me begin with the question I get asked most when I volunteer to bring a Cuban food dish for a pot-luck: Is Cuban food spicy? My answer is always "No! Cuban food is well seasoned and full of flavor, not spicy." That is, unless you add hot sauce to your serving.

Also, growing up in a Cuban community has been quite surreal. For example, after hearing about the Cuban Missile Crisis & the Bay of Pigs invasion in history class, I also heard about it from Cubans who were actually there in the middle of it. One of them was the father of one of my childhood friends; he is a surviving expatriate of the Bay of Pigs invasion. As I was leaving for basic training, he pulled me aside and gave me this advice: "If you promise air support, you better provide it."

Of course, he was speaking Spanish. It was peppered with expletives and to this day my memory of that conversation still sends a chill up my spine just as it did the day he conveyed it to me.
Beatriz Hill, SDDC Command Group: I am first generation Cuban, born to immigrant parents who fled Cuba as adults because they did not want to live in Communism nor raise their family in that environment. My father was an exchange student studying Engineering at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the late 50's when political upheaval was caused in Cuba. My father tells of how he almost quit his studies to return back to Cuba to be with his pregnant wife and family, but in discussing his plight with the dean of studies, the dean went out on a limb and lent my father the money he needed to purchase airline tickets to get the whole family out of Cuba.

My parents and their families left Cuba with only the clothes they were wearing as they were not permitted to take much more. They all became naturalized citizens and well-ingrained in the Fort Wayne community. However, they were determined to raise my sister and me with the Cuban culture and beliefs. Spanish was the language to be spoken at home and English was learned at school. No matter how much my sister and I tried speaking English at home, my mother graciously would reply "no entiendo" (I don't understand). It isn't strange to hear us in conversation speaking "Spanglish" because both languages come naturally to us. Chaperones were also a norm for us growing up. I didn't get to go to the movies with my friends or boyfriend unless a parent was with us. I chuckle at that now but it wasn't too funny back then!

It has been humbling for me as a child of Cuban immigrants to hear of their struggles throughout my life. On the flipside, it was rewarding to have the opportunity in 2009 to go to Cuba and visit with remaining cousins of my father's and his great-grandmother who will be 102 this year. For nine days I experienced oppression of a communistic regime as I visited my father's first home and the high school he attended as we travelled on avenues that were not paved and travelled on by horse and buggies or authentic vintage vehicles from the 1950s. This visit truly gave me a renewed sense of pride for the democracy we embrace in United States, where we are free to speak, worship, and come and go as we please. Our family remaining in Cuba is not of communistic beliefs and are very oppressed and rationed because they will not give in to the political convictions plaguing that country. Therefore, they live with no running water and in houses that lack upkeep because they cannot purchase wood or paint to make much needed repairs.

I am proud to be rich in Hispanic traditions and culture thanks to my parent's upbringing and to be able to practice these with my own American-born family. My daughter was asked recently where she was from and I heard her state with conviction, "I am Cuban."
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Romero, SDDC Operations: Colombia is a beautiful country at the northwest entrance of South America -- known for its marvelous coffee and paradisiacal evenings at the Llanos del Meta.

Colombia is home to approximately 49 million people who speak Spanish as their primary language. Colombia is surrounded by oceans on the north and the west and three different mountainous regions. Besides coffee, Colombia is also known for its fruits, cacao, corn, potatoes, and an array of flowers only seen within its borders. The total area of Colombia is 449,203 square miles, roughly, three times the size of the State of Montana.

The Colombian National Anthem is recognized as the second most beautiful national anthem of all the countries of the world. The people of Colombia have a captivating mix of ethnic groups with 95 percent of the population being catholic.

Colombia is a very proud country -- proud of its past, its accomplishments, its history and its democracy. The country is also a forward looking nation hosting a huge young industrial base, a very potent agricultural mass and a tremendous number of universities and colleges. As of 2012, its economy ranks 3rd in Latin America right after Brazil and Chile.