MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
“Heritage, diversity, integrity and honor: The renewed hope of America” is the theme of 2010’s Hispanic Heritage Month.
The term Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, refers to Spanish-speaking people in the United States of any race, and today more than 35 million American people identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
Each year, the Marine Corps celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 worldwide to highlight the cultural inheritance and long traditions of military service of Hispanic Americans among the different branches of the United States military.
The observation started when President Lyndon Johnson established Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 to highlight the contributions Hispanics make every day to the service and their country.
On Aug. 17, 1988, President Ronald Reagan enacted into law and extended the observation to a monthlong celebration.
Marine Administrative Message 502/10 states that Sept. 16 – Oct. 15 is observed with respect to the anniversary of the independence of seven Latin American countries; Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile.
According to Master Sgt. Rodney Buentello, training chief with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron here, it’s the mixture and abundance of Hispanic culture from all around the world that comes together to make Hispanic Heritage Month a significant time for celebration.
“It’s not just one race of Latinos from Mexico,” said Buentello. “It’s Cubans, Brazilians and South Americans. To come together as a nation makes the heritage strong as well as the Marine Corps.”
The MARADMIN also states; “Throughout our history, Hispanic Americans have distinguished themselves in the Marine Corps and they continue to do so today.”
The Marine Corps continues to recognize successful Hispanic service members such as Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas, director of Manpower Management Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps.
Salinas was the first Hispanic woman to become a general officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Aug. 2, 2006.
Two days later, upon assumptions of her command at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, Calif., she became the first woman to ever command a recruit depot. Salinas has served in the Marine Corps since May 1974.
Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps from June 26, 2003 to April 25, 2007, is originally from the nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
Estrada was the 15th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and became the first Marine of Hispanic descent to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
Pedro Augusto del Valle, native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the first Hispanic Marine to reach the rank of lieutenant general.
After serving in World War I, Haiti and Nicaragua, del Valle went on to serve as commanding general of the 1st Marine Division during World War II.
According to Lance Cpl. Claudio Martinez, combat correspondent with the Public Affairs Office here, not many people know the stories of the Hispanic Marines and war heroes who sacrificed, gave their lives, and served in the military.
“I remember, growing up, my dad always told me stories of Pancho Villa and Moctezuma,” said Martinez. “The way I’ve led my life has had a lot to do with those stories. It’s nice to have some time to set apart not only for Hispanics to get to know their own heritage, but also for other people to know our heritage.”
The stories Martinez was told as a child ultimately played a role in his decision to defend his country the way his ancestors did during the Mexican revolution.
According to Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez, station weather forecaster, family values play a huge part in the Hispanic culture as well as the Marine Corps.
“The Hispanic culture is influenced a lot by family,” said Rodriguez. “In the Marine Corps, it’s reassuring to know there is a whole community of Hispanics who are helping each other out. We are able to kind of lean on each other. I think that’s a very beneficial asset for us.”
According to Buentello, the kinship of the Hispanic culture holds a strong bond that allows for trust and friendship.
“Our roots run deep and we never forget that,” said Buentello. “If we’re strong together, there’s nothing we can’t do to help the Marine Corps or America grow that much stronger.”
As Hispanic Marines continue to sacrifice and serve their country, they pass their heritage on to future generations in the hope that they too remember where they come from.