Celebrating Hispanic Americans

The celebration of the significant contributions of Hispanic Americans to the U.S. takes place this month, designated Hispanic Heritage Month.

Did you know the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1990 was Octavio Paz of Mexico, a poet, diplomat and writer?

Were you aware that Pura Belpr (1901-1982), the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City, also was an accomplished writer? She collected Puerto Rican folktales, translating and publishing them as children’s literature, according to the website www.centropr.org.

Do you remember that Roberto Clemente from Puerto Rico, a member of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, died in an airplane crash in 1972 on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua?

This year, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina member of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Miss Universe is 22-year-old Jimena Navarrete, who said she plans to promote her home country of Mexico during her yearlong reign.

The younger Hispanic generation here may not know, or might have forgotten, that Youngstown’s first Hispanic fire chief was Hector Colon, or the city’s first Hispanic law director was Atty. Edwin Romero.

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week. It was approved by President Lyndon B. Johnson and expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting Sept. 15 and ending Oct. 15.

The monthlong period is used to commemorate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The start date of Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, according to the website hispanicheritagemonth.org.

In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day, or D a de la Raza, which is Oct. 12, falls within this 30-day period.

Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana, 3660 Shirley Road, Youngstown, the local nonprofit organization founded in 1972 that serves the Hispanic community in and around Mahoning County, has joined with Youngstown State University to promote several events tied to the celebration.

On Sept. 15, at OCCHA, Carol Vitelli, a local health-care case worker, will lead a discussion on the topic “Health at Home,” which will provide a complete guide to symptoms, solutions and self-care. The presentation in English will be at 10 a.m., and in Spanish at 11 a.m.

At 6 p.m. Sept. 16, at the Newport Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, 3730 Market St., Youngstown, the second annual Student Art Celebration will feature art entries from area schoolchildren, many of them Hispanic.

And at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24, the program “Listen to Our Hispanic Voices” will be in the Chestnut Room of YSU’s Kilcawley Center.

For 38 years, OCCHA has provided programs related to social services, housing, clothing, emergency food, health services, labor-related problems, youth, English classes, computer literacy, job placement, after-school tutorial program, a bilingual program and summer day camp.

The culmination of Hispanic Heritage Month will be OCCHA’s 38th annual fundraiser banquet at The Embassy, 5030 Youngstown-Poland Road, Struthers, on Oct. 29.

Ernie Brown Jr. is a regional editor at The Vindicator and writes a monthly column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com

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