Fort Belvoir, Virginia –
Every year since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan expanded the observance into a monthlong event, Hispanic Heritage Month takes place Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. In a Sept. 26 celebration hosted by the McNamara Headquarters Complex Equal Employment Opportunity offices, Defense Contract Audit Agency Director Anita Bales explained why.
“Sept. 15 was chosen as the starting point of the celebration because it marks the anniversary of the independence of five Latin American countries — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua,” she said. Additionally, Mexico and Chile declared their independence in mid-September.
“We celebrate the contributions of Hispanics to our nation’s history and we pause to reflect on the theme, ‘Hispanics: One Endless Voice to Enhance our Traditions,’” Bales said.
She introduced keynote speaker Luis Borunda, the first Hispanic in Maryland history to serve as deputy secretary of state.
Borunda thanked senior leaders from DCAA, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Defense Technical Information Center, Defense Logistics Agency Energy and DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams and his wife, Myra for welcoming him.
He then shared his experiences growing up as the son of a Baptist minister in gang-infested East Los Angeles, and how volunteering for opportunities early in life helped set him up for success.
Borunda attended college in New Mexico, where his family is originally from. He said he got his first taste of politics in college, as the president of what he called a philosophically radical organization. But once he became a part of the working world, he said his views changed. Now he considers himself more a small-business owner than a politician.
“We take advantage of the opportunities that we’re given in life,” he said. “If we don’t raise our hand, sometimes we’ll miss out.”
Borunda explained that many years ago, he received a call asking him to volunteer to support President George W. Bush’s campaign.
“I didn’t want to come to Virginia to make phone calls,” he said. “But I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ I took the opportunity when it was presented.”
The speaker credits his father, who held two doctorates, with instilling a strong work ethic in him.
“We don’t get to where we are unless we work hard,” he said. “We have strong support systems, family and strong faith-based structures.”
Borunda said people may have heard about celebrities and sports stars who have a Hispanic or Latino heritage.
“But I want to talk about some folks that you may not have ever heard of,” he said. “[Army] Cpl. Joseph DeCastro – anybody ever heard of him?”
DeCastro was the first Hispanic American to be awarded the highest military decoration for valor in combat, the Medal of Honor, for distinguished service in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.
“How about [Navy Master’s Mate] Juan Ortega — another Medal of Honor winner?” Borunda asked.
Ortega was the first Hispanic sailor to be awarded that distinguished honor during the Civil War.
The deputy secretary said he often thinks about another notable Hispanic officer, Navy Lt. j.g. Everett Alvarez Jr., because he actually met Alvarez.
“He was the first U.S. pilot to be detained during the Vietnam War and he spent eight years in captivity, making him the second longest-held U.S. prisoner of war after Army Col. Floyd James Thompson,” Borunda said.
Those who are willing to sacrifice everything should serve as beacons and examples for all U.S. citizens, he said.
“It’s amazing to me that Hispanics have Medal of Honor winners from our Civil War. Our legacy of service to this country — our voice that continues to enhance our traditions — goes back even further than that,” he said.
Borunda talked about the contributions of Bernardo de Gálvez, for whom Galveston, Texas, was named. Gálvez, a Spanish military leader, served as colonial governor of Spanish Louisiana and Cuba, later as Viceroy of New Spain, which included most of what is now the western United States, along with Florida, all of Mexico and part of Canada, among other territories.
Gálvez was one of only eight people in history given honorary U.S. citizenship, he said.
“On Dec. 16, 2014, Congress conferred honorary citizenship on Gálvez, citing him as a hero of the Revolutionary War who risked his life for the freedom of the United States and provided supplies, intelligence and a strong military support to the war effort,” he said.
“We talked about one endless voice to enhance our traditions; I would argue that the people we’ve talked about today have not just enhanced our traditions as Latinos and Hispanics in this country —they’re the whole of the United States,” Borunda said in his closing remarks.
“We have a wonderful tradition in the U.S. of inclusion of accepting people. No, we’re not a perfect country, but I will say this much — I would never, ever live anywhere else.”