ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Team Robins is observing National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15.
Throughout the month, various events will celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.
This year’s theme is: “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation”.
Staff Sgt. Natalia Vargas, 78th Healthcare Operations Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of Women’s Health Clinic, is the lead organizer of the month’s events.
“I love this time of year because it’s another chance to educate people about the importance of diversity,” said Vargas. “I’m a native of Miami, where it is a beautiful melting pot of people from different places and backgrounds. I grew up with friends from all over the world. I have a best friend from Brazil and another from Argentina. That is the beauty of my hometown, a mixture of people.”
However, Vargas said it was a bit of a culture shock when she arrived at Robins.
“Yes, there are Hispanic people here, but not to the level I am accustomed,” she said. “If you don’t have the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures, it can be a challenge to learn about their way of life.
“Educating people can come in many ways,” Vargas continued. “For instance, at first glance, some non-Hispanic people look at me and assume by my facial features that I am Mexican, but I am Chilean. This simple fact lets others know Mexicans aren’t the only group which falls under the Hispanic umbrella.”
According to the Department of Defense, a significant number of Hispanics have served in all of the nation's wars beginning with the Revolutionary War. Sixty-one service members of Hispanic or Latino heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest medal for valor. Two were sailors, 13 Marines and 46 soldiers.
“I am proud to be the embodiment of the values that define us as a nation,” said Vargas. I am the first to serve in my family. Proud to be part of something greater than myself. It’s not an easy path but a noble one.”
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988.
The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30-day period.
“Hispanics celebrate everything,” she said. “That is how we show love, and it comes with music, fun, dancing and just lots of energy. I hope the base community will come to our activities to learn more about our different cultures and celebrate with us.”
Robins will kick off its celebration of Hispanic culture at the Heritage Club with a Latin Dance Class on Sept. 22 at 5:00 p.m.
A mentorship panel will take place at The Refuge on Sept. 29 at 11 a.m., which will feature Col. Sergio Rios, 78th Air Base Wing deputy and Chief Master Sgt. Luis Magana, 78th ABW Command chief. There will also be food samples from various Latin American countries. The month will wrap up with a showing of the movie Encanto at Robins Park on Oct. 13 at 6:30.