By Sgt. 1st Class Theresa GualdaramaNovember 29, 2012
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - More than 150 people celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month in Kandahar Airfield's Fest Tent on Oct. 12 to commemorate contributions and achievements of Hispanic Americans.
With a multitude of flags surrounding the stage representing the colorful and dynamic heritage being recognized, the celebration marked the important contributions of Hispanic Americans and their commitment to the nation.
"It was very well planned with very professional looking displays and the flags accentuated the atmosphere," said Brice Damian Estrella, a Salsa at KAF performer and DynCorp International employee.
According to the National Hispanic Heritage Month website, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America are recognized during the commemoration.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week during President Lyndon Johnson's term and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period, starting on Sept. 15. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988.
The day of Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and Sept.18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30 day period.
"Today we gather to celebrate this year's National Hispanic Heritage Month [with the theme] 'Diversity United, Building America's Future Today,'" said Lt. Col. Hector E. Paz III of the Third Infantry Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, native. "This theme was selected this year to celebrate the rich heritage and cultural diversity that Hispanic Americans have contributed to our country."
"[The United States] is a nation that embraces all nationalities, allowing all of us to try our best and fulfill our dreams," he said.
The month-long celebration marks Hispanic heritage and thanks Hispanic Americans who have and continue to shape the nation.
"It's important to have these celebrations. It lets people know who we are and what we do. It gives a positive insight to our culture and I definitely want to be a part of that," said Warrant Officer Maritza Cisneros, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Through the years, the Hispanic community has contributed to the country in multiple ways. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry are just a few of the notable Hispanic Americans who have contributed greatly to society.
One of the military organizations recognized was the 65th Infantry Regiment. Comprised primarily of Puerto Ricans, the 65th Infantry Regiment began as a volunteer regiment in 1899 and participated in WWI and WWII. On May 27, 1908, Congress reorganized the 65th Infantry Regiment into the United States Army before sending it to battle in the Korean War.
During the Korean War, the 65th Infantry Regiment, now attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, made its mark and saw extensive combat. The soldiers of the 65th Infantry Regiment were among the first infantrymen to meet the enemy on the battlefields of Korea. They defended "Outpost Kelly" and "Jackson Heights" hills while fighting and defeating the enemy in Korea.
In total, the regiment earned 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 258 Silver Stars, 628 Bronze Stars and 90 Purple Hearts during the Korean War and World War II.
The Hispanic-American culture is diverse with multiple nationalities. It's a culture that celebrates with song and dance in many countries in addition to the United States, including U.S. troops deployed all over the world.
"It's more important to celebrate while on deployment, it brings us home. It's just the little things that help out," Cisneros said.
The National Hispanic Heritage commemoration was full of cultural history, dance performances and a diverse selection of food, giving those who attended the opportunity to experience the colorful Hispanic traditions.
The local talent on Kandahar Airfield performed lively cultural dances in celebration of Hispanic-American contributions to the nation.
"Even though I was super-super nervous, I had a lot of fun and felt privileged to be dancing with my friends," said Brice. "I enjoyed all the aspects of the event during the day and night. It was a great compliment to the event held previously at the Fest Tent on Sept. 15 ."
Cisneros performed "Jarabe," meaning sweet syrup, a Mexican folk dance symbolizing courtship in the Mexican state of Jalisco. During the courtship dance, the men wore huge sombreros and traditional Spanish charro suits while the women wore ranchero-designed dresses with Indian-influenced bright-colored ribbons.
"Just seeing the dress and the dances reminds people of the celebrations," Cisneros said. "It brings a little piece of home and it feels good to make people feel that."
The celebration featured the Salsa at KAF performers, who danced to the beats of salsa and bachata music. The audience enjoyed watching their display of rhythmic combination turns, spins, dips and steps.
Salsa is a form of music and dance that includes vibrant and energetic hip swings in rhythm with beats of Latin jazz and Cuban mambo music. Bachata is a form of music and dance that features guitars with percussion instruments, such as maracas or bongo drums. Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic.
Paz said, "I am glad to belong to this glorious Army and be a citizen of the greatest nation on earth that has given us the opportunity to be so diverse, but at the same time be one nation."