Hispanic Heritage month honors diversity of Air Force

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Showcasing some of the Air Force's ethnic diversity, Eielson held several events in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month recently.

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and has been observed since 1988--a change from the previous National Hispanic Heritage Week, which had been in place since September 1968.

The observance is a month-long opportunity to celebrate the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.Sept. 15 was chosen as the starting date of the celebration because it is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries--Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

In addition, Mexico declared its independence on Sept. 16 and Chile on Sept. 18.

During this month-long celebration, some of the events available to Eielson members were a Latin night where Icemen danced and celebrated their music-enriched culture, a food sampling with a wide variety of food from different Hispanic backgrounds and the Hispanic Heritage Luncheon, where the importance of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month came to light.

"Throughout our history, America has been a land of diversity and has benefited from the contributions of people from different backgrounds brought together by love of liberty," said Capt. Michael Tewalt, 354th Fighter Wing legal office and master of ceremonies at the luncheon. "During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the achievements of Hispanic Americans and the significant role they have played in making our nation strong, prosperous and free. Our nation's Hispanic community has contributed to the advancement of freedom around the world and the defense of freedom at home and abroad in every generation."

Today, there are more then 200,000 Hispanic Americans serving in the Armed Forces. In addition, thousands of Hispanic Americans are helping to defend and protect America's homeland by serving as police officers, firefighters and other public servants.

"Our nation is grateful for Hispanic Americans valiant service, as well as their courage and sacrifice," Capt. Tewalt said. "Americans are thankful for their duty and work in helping keep our nation free."

The luncheon's guest speaker, Ivette Fernandez, is of Hispanic descent and a Fairbanks native who was crowned Miss Alaska 2001. She is currently a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Active in the Hispanic community, she was recently selected as one of 15 young Hispanic Americans to participate in the 2006 Young Hispanic Leaders Program in Spain and keeps abreast of information pertaining to Hispanics.

"In 2005, the estimated Hispanic population was 43 million people, making Hispanics the largest ethnic minority in the United States," Ms. Fernandez said. "The Hispanic population is growing at three times the national average and is projected to grow to more than 100 million by 2050 and by 2030 the Hispanic annual growth will outpace that of the Caucasian population."

Ms. Fernandez's parents moved to Alaska to achieve the "American dream" and although they were no longer in a Hispanic nation, her parents still instilled Hispanic heritage into Ms. Fernandez's upbringing, which included a strong work ethic.

"My parent's teachings of hard work and honesty showed me that with those things in place, anything can be accomplished and the American dream is possible," Ms. Fernandez said.

Col. James Horton, 354th Fighter Wing vice commander, commended Ms. Fernandez's parents on their daughter's success and said she was a great example of what hard work, dedication and love in a family will do for setting an example for others to see.

The vice commander also commented on how diversity affects the nation and the armed forces.

"We need to realize what diversity can do for us; what everyone brings to the fight," said Col. Horton. "If it wasn't for diversity, our nation and our military would not be the shining example they are today. If you look around and find yourself with people just like you--get out and get involved with folks who have a different perspective through their heritage. You will find yourself much smarter and better for the experience."