GREAT LAKES, IL --
Americans take time to recognize Hispanic and Latino American’s contributions and celebrate their heritage and culture during National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sep. 15 to Oct. 15.
A Hispanic Heritage Week was first observed in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, but President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a full month on Aug. 17, 1988.
The dates are meant to signify the independence of Latin-American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, in addition to Mexico’s and Chile’s independence day celebrations.
Department of Defense statistics show nearly 17 percent of active-duty Marines are of Hispanic origin, and for all branches, Hispanics make up more than a quarter of active-duty service members.
“It’s my job as the equal opportunity representative to ensure that every Marine gets a chance to celebrate their background,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Roberts, administrative chief with 9th Marine Corps District Headquarters. “Whether it’s African-American Heritage in February or Hispanic Heritage in September, I make sure that those Marines get the recognition that they deserve.”
From the top down, throughout the 9th Marine Corps District Headquarters there is a consensus with the idea of Hispanic heritage being something that shouldn’t be celebrated one month a year, but rather a lifestyle of culture and tradition that should be embraced daily. For Lt. Col. Jaime “Chui” Gutierrez, 9th Marine Corps District’s operations officer, the pride in his racial background extends well beyond a one-month celebration.
“Most importantly, we’re all Marines first, and the mission is always first,” said Gutierrez, who, before commissioning, enlisted in the Marines to serve as a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist and a reconnaissance man. “Celebrating my culture isn’t something I do once a month, it’s something that I live every day.”
That ideal, held so closely by Marines, is still shared with Hispanic Marines in the junior-enlisted ranks today.
“For me, when my parents decided to bring me to the United States to provide me a better life, I felt like I should give back and be proud of something to give back to them,” said Pfc. Pablo Zacari, an administrative clerk with 9th Marine Corps District and a native of Mexico. “Serving my country in the Marines is one way I felt I could give back to my family for providing me the opportunity to come to the United States.”
Today, Marines still yearn to teach others their traditions and legacies of their particular ethnicities. And while the Marines have strived for diversity in recruiting, and among its active ranks, the Corps will continue to teach traditions and legacies of Marines past, in order to further the bond between all Marines regardless of the color of their skin.