Hispanic Heritage Month: Sept. 15 – Oct. 15

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Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from 15 September – 15 October to celebrate the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

This year’s theme, “Hispanic Americans: Energizing Our Nation’s Diversity,” was chosen by the National Council of Hispanic Employment Managers and invites us to reflect on Hispanic Americans’ vitality and meaningful legacy in our Nation’s cultural framework.

America’s diversity has always been one of our nation’s greatest strengths. Hispanic Americans have long played an integral role in America’s rich culture, proud heritage, and the building of this great nation.

The Beacon recognizes and honors a long and proud heritage through the years. In this issue, the 1980s and 1990s.

1980s

– Lieutenant Olga E. Custodio becomes the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force military pilot training and the first woman T-38 Talon flight instructor. After retiring, she will become the first Latina commercial airline captain.

– Gloria Anzaldua publishes her nonfiction book Boderlands/La frontera: the New Mestiza.  It becomes one of the most influential books written by a Latina for the next 25 years.

– Stand and Deliver is the first Hollywood feature film where the entire film—scripting, producing, financing, directing, and acting—is conducted by Hispanics. The film is the true story of Jamie Escalante, a Bolivian math teacher, in East Los Angeles, who prepares poor, inner city students for college.

– Franklin Chang-Diaz becomes the first Hispanic in space. He speaks in Spanish to TV viewers from the space shuttle Columbia.

– Army Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his remarkable feats of valor in the Vietnam War. During the presentation, the president remarked, “If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.”

– Richard E. Cavazos, a Korean War recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross makes military history as he is appointed the U.S. Army’s first Hispanic four-star general.

1990s

– Ellen Ochoa becomes the first female Hispanic astronaut. She will fly on two more NASA Space Shuttle flights, and log over 719 hours in space.

– Antonia Novello becomes the first Hispanic and first female Surgeon General. During her tenure, she concentrated on AIDS prevention, underage smoking, and women’s health.

– The Presidential Medal of Freedom is posthumously awarded to William “Willie” Velasquez, founder of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.  His efforts empowered thousands of Hispanics to  participate in the electoral process.

– The guided missile destroyer Sergeant Alfredo Gonzales is the first U.S. Navy ship to be named for a Hispanic service member (a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in Vietnam).

– Oscar De La Hoya, at the age of 19, wins a gold medal for boxing at the Olympics.  He will go on to win ten world titles in six weight classes, and become one of the most popular boxers in the history of the sport.

– Gigi Fernandez becomes the first Puerto Rican professional women’s tennis player to rank in the world’s top 20 best players.  She will go on  to win six Grand Slam women’s doubles titles and become the first Puerto Rican to win Olympic gold.