By Spc. Elvyn Nieves

113th Mobile public affairs

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq — In an evening full of pride, joy, song and dance, Hispanic-American troops offered a celebration Thursday for their fellow soldiers during the Hispanic Heritage Month program at the 1st Cavalry Division’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center.

The audience was presented with the history of Hispanic Americans, entertained with songs in the Spanish language and witnessed a demonstration of Latin dances such as salsa, merengue, bachata and punta performed by soldiers.

There was a “Who am I?” presentation where a soldier recited the career highlights of a famous Hispanic American and the audience had identify the person.

“The importance of this celebration is to recognize the fact that we, as Hispanic-American soldiers, may be representing different Latin countries, but we have one goal in common and that is to defend the freedom and democracy of our nation,” said Staff Sgt. Nelson Velazquez, a Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, native from Alpha Company, Division Special Troop Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. “We have to be proud of who we are, be patriots and keep our roots standing.”

The guest speaker of the night was Los Angeles native Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Martinez, the senior noncommissioned officer for the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. Noting the Army’s diversity, Martinez said ethnic observances are important, and not only for Hispanic Americans.

“It’s important for the Hispanic community to retain our customs and traditions wherever we go because if we don’t, they get lost,” Martinez said. “If you don’t pass on those traditions and customs, like the language and music, they won’t get passed on to future generations.”

Martinez said that, while the Hispanic community has suffered racism and discrimination in the civilian world, such practices are not happening in the Army thanks to the equal opportunity program.

“No matter what ethnic background, what culture you might be, whether black, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, you should be proud of it,” Martinez said. “Don’t forget it. I can proudly announce that my name is Victor Martinez, I’m a soldier, and I’m a Hispanic American striving to make a positive impact.”

Hispanic Heritage Month started as a week-long observance in 1968, and was expanded in 1988 to last 30 days starting Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It was decreed law on Aug. 17, 1988. The date for the observance, Sept. 15, was chosen because it coincides with the independence day anniversary of many Latin American countries.

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