Rich traditions are celebrated through foods, music, and poems during Hispanic Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Armando Vasquez
  • 108th Wing Public Affairs Office
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- With flamenco music playing in the background and poems by Julia de Burgos read in Spanish by several Airmen, the 108th Wing celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month Oct. 2 here.

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and it recognizes the many contributions of Hispanic Americans to the United States, and to celebrate the Hispanic culture and rich heritage. The Department of Defense recognizes this program and encourages its service members to actively participate in such celebratory programs.

This year, a commemoration to Julia de Burgos was the theme for celebrating the many Hispanic Airmen of the 108th Wing. Julia de Burgos, a renowned Puerto Rican poet, is considered by many as one of the greatest poets in Latin America, and was a passionate civil-rights advocate for women and African/Afro-Caribbean writers. In addition, a retired 108th Wing Airmen, Master Sgt. Rafael Jimenez, is a direct descendent of de Burgos and was present during the celebration of his aunt's great accomplishments.

"The Hispanic Heritage Month program was great," said Staff Sgt. Janice Rivera, the knowledge operation management non-commissioned officer for the 108th Wing here and a proud Hispanic of Puerto Rican heritage. "It was such a wonderful opportunity for many to be aware of such a diverse culture. The program did focus on Julia de Burgos but it also showed how her words impacted many throughout history, and even today. Many who read from her poems were not Puerto Rican, but it showed that anyone of from any nationality can come together and enjoy a bit of culture and history, and at the same time learn something new."

"I was glad to be able to assist with the program and learn about Julia de Burgos," said Rivera, currently a resident of Camden, N.J., and one of the several Airmen who read de Burgo's poem in both Spanish and English.

Jimenez spoke of his aunt's accomplishments and the pride his aunt felt to be Puerto Rican and Hispanic. Although never having met his aunt, he felt he knew her well by the many poems she wrote and the many stories he heard from friends and family, said Jimenez.

Also in attendance was Carmen D. Lucca, a writer and poet of Puerto Rican descent and an admirer of de Burgo's artistic work. She offered a reading of de Burgo's poems and spoke briefly of her appreciation and admiration to the life of this great Hispanic poet.

For their participation in the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Lucca and Jimenez were each presented with a certificate of appreciation from Brig. Gen. Michael L. Cunniff, 108th Wing commander, on behalf of the 108th Wing.

To cap the event, the Airmen and honor guests were treated to some of the many ethnic foods enjoyed by Hispanic people. Such foods consisted of rice and beans, empanadas, potato salad, fried sweet plantains, Spanish chicken stew, flan, and tropical fruit drinks.

"To be Puerto Rican or of Hispanic heritage is such an honor, and I am proud to be part of such a great culture that values tradition and family," said Rivera.

Rivera has seen the many challenges Hispanics have had to overcome throughout history and still today in modern times. Though she is Latin American, she knows the stories of her ancestors and has seen the land that her grandparents lived and worked on for many years before coming to New York, said Rivera.

"I feel it's important to maintain that sense of cultural awareness so that I can appreciate all the struggles my family had to overcome," said Rivera.

And that is what hopefully Hispanic Heritage Month was able to do for the rest of the 108th Wing.