Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates contributions of many cultures

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – The celebration of the Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States just ended.  It’s observed each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to recognize the contributions of the Hispanic presence in the United States and celebrate their heritage and culture.
For Tito Echiburu, from Chile, who has lived in this country for 54 years, this celebration has a special meaning. “My wife, also from Chile, and I, are very proud of our heritage and what it means,” he said. “We have tried to install Hispanic values to our children, like family, hard work, a good education, etc.
Echiburu, who is a member of Morton St. Martin Center, said they will never forget where they came from, “but at the same time, we are so proud to be part, and citizens of the United States. We are extremely grateful for the opportunities we have received in this country.”
According to the 2010 Census, there are 50.5 million Hispanics living in the United States, representing 16 percent of the population. This figure shows a significant increase compared to the 2000 census which register the Hispanic population at 35.3 million, representing 13 percent of the American population.
Alejandro Banda, president of the Mississippi Hispanic Association and member of Madison St. Francis Parish, noted Hispanics have participated in the history of this nation. “They have excelled in several fields or art and culture, science, technology, politics, entertainment, sports and even in business. It’s evident that Hispanics have had a remarkable and very positive influence in our nation, especially because our solid family values, our deep attachment to our faith, our loyalty and our sense of citizenship and service,” He said.
Banda indicated this month is not exclusively a celebration for Hispanics. “This is a national celebration and everybody is invited. Together, let us enjoy a “margarita” or maybe a “mojito.” Together, we can fill our ears, and delight our senses with the sweet words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Pablo Neruda. Let us enjoy the spicy rhythms of Salsa, Cumbia and Bachata.
“It is a fortunate coincidence that Pope Francis is visiting our country now. Our first pope from Latin America, let us follow his example of love and brotherhood and let us enjoy this time together,” he added.
The circumstances by which Hispanics have come to this new land vary greatly from person to person. Some came to visit or to study and then decide to stay while others have come through the border without legal papers.
Their achievements are reached little by little, day by day. A minority start their own business, others work as professionals in their field of study, and the vast majority work in a wide variety of occupations, all very honorable because as the saying goes, all jobs have dignity.
Several parishes in the Diocese of Jackson, those with a Hispanic community, usually have festival, dinners and dances to celebrate their heritage in September or October. Hispanic members of three communities gathered in Tupelo recently to celebrate together as a family: New Albany St. Francis, Pontotoc St. Christopher and St. James parishes.
Jackson State University  (JSU) invited officers of the Mississippi Hispanic Association to make a presentation about the Hispanic culture and their contributions to the U.S. at its Welcome Center Tuesday, Sept. 21. Esperanza Velásquez, a board member, was the presenter.
Shirley Pandolfy, an attorney from Peru, attended the event at JSU. Her comments echoes Echiburu’s beliefs that Hispanics provide a positive influence on American culture “with our strong commitment to family, faith, and service,” she said. For all this reasons, she added, “we celebrate this month with pride and renew our commitment to continue strengthening our nation.”
Also in September, several Latin American countries celebrated the anniversary of their independence: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile and Belize. Before the end of the celebration, Columbus Day was observed on Oct. 12 which is also a big day in the Hispanic world.
Hispanic Heritage Month started in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson declared a week-long observance. In ensuing years it was expanded to a month-long celebration.
On Sept. 23, Pope Francis during his speech at the welcome ceremony at the White House in Washington said that as the son of an immigrant family he was happy to be a guest in a country built largely by immigrants.