Each year Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.
September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for the Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate independence on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30-day period.
I want to share with you some famous firsts by Hispanic Americans, some of which I did not even realize occurred. Here are some of the ones that stand out:
• U.S. Representative: Romualdo Pacheco, a representative from California. He was elected in 1876 by a one-vote margin.
• U.S Senator: Ocaviano Larrazolo was elected in 1928 to finish the term of New Mexico senator Andieus Jones, who had died in office. The first Hispanic senator to serve a full term was actually Dennis Chavez, of New Mexico, who served for 27 years!
• U.S. Surgeon General: Antonia Coello Novello from 1990 to 1993. She was also the first woman to ever hold the position.
• U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Henry Cisneros in 1993 • U.S. Attorney General: Alberto Gonzales in 2005
• Democrat to run for President: Bill Richardson in 2008 but lost the nomination to President Obama. However, he did make history by entering the race.
• U.S Supreme Court Justice: Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. She grew up not too far from where I grew up in the Bronx.
• Flying Ace: Col. Manuel J. Fernandez, Jr. who flew 125 combat missions in the Korean War.
• Medal of Honor recipient: Philip Bazaar, a Chilean member of the U.S. Navy in 1865.
• General, U.S. Army: Richard E. Cavazos in 1976. He later became the Army’s first Hispanic four-star general.
• Astronaut: Franklin Chang-Diaz in 1986. He flew a total of 7 space-shuttle missions.
• Female astronaut: Ellen Ochoa in 1991.
• Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: Oscar Hijuelos in 1990 for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
• Opera diva: Lucrezia Bori, who debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1912.
• Rock Star: Richie Valens in 1958.
• Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee: Carlos Santana in 1998.
• Oscar, Best Actor: Jose Ferrer in 1950 for Cyrano de Bergerac.
• Leading lady: Dolores del Rio in 1925 for Joanne.
• Star of network television: Desi Arnaz in 1952 for I Love Lucy.
• Major League Player: Estaban Bellan in 1871 for the Troy Haymakers.
• Rookie of the Year: Luis Aparicio in 1956 while he was a shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.
• Hall of Fame inductee: Roberto Clemente in 1973. He was also the first Hispanic player to serve on the Player’s Association Board and to reach 3,000 hits.
• NFL Player: Ignacio “Lou” Molinet in 1927.
• Football Hall of Fame inductee: Tom Fears in 1970. He also became the first Hispanic American head coach in 1967.
• Grand Slam Championship winner: Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez in 1948.
• Heavyweight boxing champ: John Ruiz in 2001 when he defeated Evander Holyfield.
• NHL 1st-round draft pick: Scott Gomez in 1998.
• Supermodel: Christy Turlington
• Entertainer on the cover of TIME magazine: Joan Baez in 1962.
• Hispanics constituted 16.7 percent of the nation’s total population and 22.5% of Florida population.
• Most importantly, Hispanics make up 28.9% of West Park residents!
The national theme for the 2012 Hispanic Heritage Month is “Diversity United, Building America’s Future Today.” The theme promotes the benefits of a united and diverse workforce by encouraging a reflection of Hispanic American contributions in the development of our nation. It enables our society to become aware of what Hispanics have done and of their capacity to do even more. Also, it instills in the new generation of Hispanic Americans a pride in their heritage, out which a renewed spirit and confidence will emerge, as a harbinger of even greater things to come.
Remember to contact me at City Hall with your ideas, suggestions or concerns. I represent you and appreciate your input into the continued success of our beloved city. I can be reached at (954) 889-4164 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.