Hispanic Americans play important role in U.S. culture, military

  • Published
  • 82nd Training Wing Equal Opportunity Office

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Sheppard AFB will observe and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when the contribution of Hispanic Americans who have served and are serving now are recognized.

The observance started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson's administration as a one-week celebration called Hispanic Heritage Week. Years later, President Ronald Reagan proposed extending this celebration into a month-long event. It was enacted into law on Aug. 17, 1988, officially designating the 30-day period starting on Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Did you know? 

• The term Hispanic originates from the Latin word Hispania. It was first used by ancient Romans to describe the region of Spain they conquered in the second century B.C. 

• Sept. 15 was chosen as the starting point of Hispanic Heritage Month because it is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, all in 1821. In addition, Mexico declared its independence on Sept. 16, 1810, and Chile on Sept. 18, 1810.

• Many Hispanics fought on both sides in the U.S. Civil War. They came from all socio-economic levels, from the wealthy who fought to protect their way of life to poor laborers trying to improve their fortunes. By the end of the war, more than 20,000 Hispanics had served. 

• In 1961, the popular Broadway musical “West Side Story” was made into a feature-length film. The leading role of Anita was given to Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican American actress and singer. She became the first Hispanic actress to take home an Academy Award for her performance. She is one of a select group of performers to have won all four of the most prestigious show awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy.

• At Stanford University in the 1940s, Dr. Albert Baez, together with Paul Kirkpatrick, developed the first x-ray microscope to observe living cells. His daughter, Joan Baez, became a world famous writer, singer, and human rights activist.

• In the 1990s, the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer Sergeant Alfredo Gonzalez became the first U.S. Navy ship to be named after a Hispanic service member. Gonzalez was a Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in Vietnam on Feb. 4, 1968.