JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Brooke Army Medical Center held a Hispanic Heritage Month observance Oct. 5 in the Medical Mall to honor Hispanics and Latinos who have helped to shape America.
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors are from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. This year’s theme, “Shaping the Bright Future of America,” was echoed throughout the ceremony.
“There is no question that the Hispanic culture is a rich culture, not just here in San Antonio, but because of all of the different contributions that the Hispanic culture brings to all of us in the United States,” said BAMC commanding general Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson during his opening remarks.
The commander spoke about some influential Hispanics and Latinos on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People list. The list included prominent figures in our culture today including singer Demi Lovato, civil rights lawyer Tom Perez and Brazilian doctor Celina Turchi.
“We have Hispanic leaders in every facet of our society today – in government, medicine, sports, entertainment and most importantly in our military,” Johnson said.
Johnson also spoke about a military hero from the past – Medal of Honor recipient Pvt. Cleto Rodriguez.
Rodriguez and another member of his unit were credited with killing more than 82 enemy soldiers, paving the way for the defeat of the enemy at the Paco Railroad Station at Manila, Philippine Islands in 1945. Two days later, Rodriguez single-handedly killed six enemy soldiers and destroyed a 20-mm. gun.
“This is just one example of how Hispanic Americans have defended and shown their allegiance to this nation -- especially through military service,” the general said.
Today there are more than 197,500 Hispanic/Latino active duty service members, and more than 45,000 civilians in the Department of Defense.
“This is the diversity that makes us strong,” Johnson said.
The guest speaker for the event was Sylvia De Leon a professor at San Antonio College. De Leon talked about growing up on the west side of San Antonio and the unique challenges she faced as a Hispanic female trying to pursue her dreams.
“My dad always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, but society was telling me I could either be a secretary or a hair dresser,” De Leon said. “When I told him I wanted to be a manager, he was the only one who believed in me.”
She said when she was in school no college-level courses were offered, it was all vocational classes. Girls took typing and home economics and boys took shop or woodworking, De Leon said.
Her high school class was the first class to be offered college courses.
“Because we were the first class to be able to take these classes the teachers pushed us and helped us to succeed,” she said.
De Leon went on to college and obtained two master’s degrees.
“I strived to be an example for others,” she said. “My whole career has always been about breaking barriers.”
“If I hadn’t had those talks with my father as a young girl I would have doubted myself and given up after the first challenge,” she said.
In conclusion, De Leon encouraged everyone to dream big and stay united.
“We need to make sure that when we make it, we bring others with us,” she said.