Hispanic Heritage Month begins today. It is one of our nation’s most recent commemorations, beginning as a week set aside under presidential order by Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Congress enacted a law expanding it to a month in 1988.
Of course, Hispanics are no less deserving than other segments of our varied population, however. Hispanic contributions to this country go deep into America’s history; after all, nearly half of today’s United States and territories once were under Spanish or Mexican rule.
American Hispanics’ loyalty to this country has always been clear, however. As a frequent contributor to these pages, Jack Ayoub, often chronicles, Latinos, and particularly Tejanos, have distinguished themselves in Texas and U.S. military campaigns dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. Sixty have earned the Medal of Honor, including Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez of Harlingen. The award, which is the highest award given to military heroes, was created during the Civil War, and among the first recipients were Massachusetts Infantry Cpl. Joseph De Castro in 1863 and Navy Seaman John Ortega in 1864.
Other distinguished military personnel include Lt. Gen. Marc Cisneros, a Brownsville native who has commanded brigades, batteries and posts in Germany, Panama Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston and is past president of Texas A&M University — Kingsville, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was born in Rio Grande City and was commander of the coalition ground forces during the Iraq War.
Valley residents have participated in key events during our nation’s history, marching arm-in-arm with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to obtain better working conditions for agricultural workers in South Texas and across the country. Groups such as Valley Interfaith and others likewise have gone to Austin and Washington to lobby for better living conditions ranging from better infrastructure to higher wages.
Even enlisted men from the Valley have shown their devotion, courage and abilities throughout our nation’s military history. They have fought in the jungles of Indochina, on the beaches of Normandy, on the sands of the Middle East and atop the waves of the Pacific. Many have even fought in our own backyard, which is dotted with battlefields that were baptized in the blood of loyal Valley residents defending their homeland, fighting for our state’s independence and for our nation’s unity.
This region’s cultural contributions are significant, beginning with Narciso Martinez, whose unique fusion of Mexican and European dance music has grown into an entire culture that extends to its own types of clothing and colloquialisms. They include Baldemar Huerta, aka Freddy Fender, who, like Martinez was born in San Benito and who topped the charts in both the rock ’n’ roll and country charts in the 1960s and ’70s, current stars Ramon Ayala, Roberto and Bobby Pulido and countless others. The area also boasts Cristela Alonzo, one of our country’s top stand-up comics who is the first Latina to write, produce and star in a major network television program.
These are just a few of the many Valley natives who have earned Hispanics a special place on our nation’s calendar, and who have set an example for many generations to follow.