PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- The Presidio of Monterey community kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month at the Tin Barn Sept. 24.

The guest speaker for the event, which was sponsored by the Marine Corps Detachment here, was Marine Staff Sgt. Rafael Campos, Company A first sergeant.

The focus of Campos' speech was that, to him, the concept of heritage is not exclusively tied to genetics; heritage should be viewed also as choice one makes in accepting traditions that are handed down.

"Heritage involves our traditions as they've been passed down from one generation to the next," he explained, adding that people can "choose whether or not they adopt those traditions."

Campos said that recognizing people only for being Hispanic isn't the point of Hispanic Heritage Month.

"You can't make me feel good about myself for being Hispanic," he said. "I was born that way."
He explained that "I understand that my heritage doesn't define who I am as a person. But I will tell you this, I enjoy Hispanic heritage."

One part of Hispanic heritage Campos enjoys in particular is the concept of inclusiveness within the culture.

"Have you ever been driving down the road, and you see a big jumping house in somebody's front lawn?" he asked. "They'll have tables and chairs out with a professional DJ or a live band? I'm telling you right now, if you hear Spanish music--the kind with a trombone in it or a guitar--and you smell carne asada--grilled meat--you are invited. It doesn't matter who you are. They will sit you down and feed you as if you were their long lost son or daughter."

Hispanic heritage is about "taking people in, treating them like an honored guest, treating them like family, without hesitation," he said.

"Hispanic heritage is about community. It's about coming together, eating great food, laughing and talking with people you just met or those you've known for years."