Celebrating Hispanic heritage

The tiny Trumbull County community of Hartford and Hispanic Heritage Month don't seem to have a whole lot in common.
But there is a connection, and her name is Caitlin O'Neil, 17, a senior at Badger High School. Don't let her surname fool you.
You see, Caitlin's mother and her grandparents are of Mexican descent, and Caitlin was the first Hispanic or Latina representative to compete in Hartford's annual Apple Festival Queens' Pageant last year.
She competes again in the pageant this year for girls ages 16-18 who live in the Hartford area. The festival is Sept. 16-18, with the pageant Sept. 16.
She said she is honored to represent the Hispanics in this area, and is especially proud of her Latin heritage.
Her interests are drawing and designing, with hopes of doing some modeling. She has plans of attending Otterbein College, Westerville, and majoring in graphic design. She worked as a volunteer for hurricane relief efforts in North Carolina last year.
About herfamily
She and her mother, Rosalia Obregon Hakin, have lived in Hartford since 1995. Rosalia is on active duty in the Army Reserve.
Caitlin's father, Michael O'Neil, lives in Columbus, and she has four older brothers. Her stepfather is Enrique Suarez, formerly of Youngstown.
Caitlin may be the first Latina to vie for the coveted Hartford honor, but, based upon recent statistics, she very well may not be the last.
The estimated U.S. Hispanic population as of July 1, 2003, was 39.9 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation's largest racial or ethnic minority.
Hispanics constitute 13.7 percent of the nation's total population. (This does not include the 3.9 million Hispanic residents of Puerto Rico.)
The projected Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2050, will be 102.6 million, says the Web site factmonster.com.
Hispanic Heritage Month begins Sept. 15 and continues until Oct. 15. It primarily celebrates the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries -- Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
In addition, Mexico declared its independence Sept. 16, and Chile on Sept. 18.
The monthlong celebration should help all of us focus attention on the contributions people of Hispanic heritage have made to U.S. history.
There are several local events tied to the celebration.
Youngstown State University is sponsoring an appearance Oct. 7 of Denise Rodrigues-Lopez, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence in Hispanic Americans.
Rodrigues-Lopez, a Cuban-American, is a lawyer and has served as director of government affairs and legislative policy in the Washington, D.C., office of the Cuban American National Council.
She will give the keynote address at YSU's Hispanic Heritage Conference, which will be at 6:30 p.m. in Kilcawley Center's Chestnut Room.
The conference will include a flag ceremony with area Hispanic schoolchildren displaying heritage flags from 22 Hispanic countries.
What else is planned
Other local events planned:
UA film festival throughout the month at the Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana headquarters, 3660 Shirley Road, Youngstown, and in DeBartolo Hall at YSU. OCCHA is the primary Hispanic social service organization in the Youngstown area.
UYoungstown City Schools will sponsor programs, displays and film showings during the month and incorporate works of Hispanic authors in some classes.
ULatinas United Network Association sponsors an event called "Financial Literacy for Women" at Park Vista Retirement Center, 1216 Fifth Ave., Youngstown, on Sept. 16. LUNA provides networking opportunities through meetings and forums and supports Latin women seeking community leadership roles.
UThe annual OCCHA dinner-dance fund-raiser will be at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Mr. Anthony's on South Avenue in Boardman.

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