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Hispanic Heritage Month - 52 years of celebration

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
Hispanic dancers entertain the crowds at Ballinger's April 2019 Ethnic Festival. Every year, Ballinger celebrates cultures from around the world. September 15 - October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month.

September 15 - October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. The recognition was signed into law as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson. The commemorative week was amended as Hispanic Heritage Month and signed into law on August 17, 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, as Public Law 100-402.

This date for Hispanic Heritage Month was chosen because it’s the independence anniversary of 5 Hispanic countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. All 5 of those countries declared independence in 1821. Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence on September 16, September 18 and September 21, respectively.

Currently, it’s estimated that there are over 52 million Hispanics in the United States. According to WikiMedia, “The demographics of Hispanic and Latino Americans depict a population that is the second-largest ethnic group in the United States, 52 million people or 16.7% of the national population, of them, 47 Million are American citizens.”

Hispanics have played a critical role in the success of the US since the War for Independence. Bernardo de Galvez was the Spanish governor of Louisiana in 1777 and helped General George Washington win several key battles against the British.

In Texas, there were Tejanos at the Alamo, helping to defend it against the Mexican army. Many historians attribute the immigration of Anglos into Texas to the Tejanos who wanted independence from Mexico and commerce with the US.

The Spanish founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, several decades before the English settled in Jamestown. Many towns in Florida and Texas were founded by the Spanish and Mexicans long before the first European set foot on this continent.

in 1947, Hispanics contributed to the desegregation of schools in the Mendez vs Westminster case: “A federal court case that challenged Mexican remedial schools in Orange County, California. In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the forced segregation of Mexican American students into separate "Mexican schools" was unconstitutional and unlawful, not because Mexicans were "white," as attorneys for the plaintiffs argued, but because as US District Court Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled, "The equal protection of the laws pertaining to the public school system in California is not provided by furnishing in separate schools the same technical facilities, textbooks and courses of instruction to children of Mexican ancestry that are available to the other public school children regardless of their ancestry. A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage."

Hispanics form a considerable portion of our military forces. According to pewresearch.org, “In 2017, 57% of U.S. servicemembers were white, 16% were black and 16% were Hispanic. Some 4% of all active duty personnel were Asian and an additional 6% identified as “other” or unknown.

During World War II, between 250,000 - 500,000 Latinos helped to defeat the evil of the Axis Powers of Germany, Japan and Italy.

One of the most famous family of Hispanic fighters during the war were “The Fighting Medinas.” The Medinas were seven brothers from a single Puerto Rican family divided between the island (New York) and Brooklyn, all of who served. Stateside, U.S. officials tapped Puerto Rican aviators for a special assignment: training African American pilots who became the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.

Hero Street USA boasts the largest number of service members. Wikipedia and other sources describe Hero Street, USA as: “In the Midwest town of Silvis, Illinois, the former Second Street is now known as Hero Street USA. The muddy block and a half mile long street was home to Mexican immigrants who worked for the Rock Island Railroad. The 22 families who lived on the street were a close-knit group. From this small street, 84 men served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The street contributed more men to military services in World War II and Korea than any other street of comparable size in the U.S. In total, eight men from Hero Street gave their lives during World War II—Joseph Gomez, Peter Macias, Johnny Muños, Tony Pompa, Frank Sandoval, Joseph "Joe" Sandoval, William "Willie" Sandoval, and Claro Solis. Second Street's name was changed to Hero Street in honor of these men and their families.

Of the 22 families on Second Street, the two Sandoval families had a total of thirteen men who served in the armed forces. Three died in service during World War II. The Sandovals were two families of Mexican immigrants, with the same surname and lived on Second Street.“

Eduvigis and Angelina Sandoval immigrated to the U.S. from Romita, Mexico. Their son, Frank, was a combat engineer assigned to help build the Ledo Road in Burma. He was killed when his unit was sent unexpectedly to the front to fight for control of a key airbase. His older brother, Joe, was assigned to the 41st Armored Infantry Division in Europe. He was killed in April 1945, just days before the war ended.

Joseph and Carmen Sandoval also immigrated to the United States from Mexico. When the war broke out, their son Willie asked for permission to enlist in the army, and both parents consented to their son's request. Willie Sandoval was trained as a paratrooper and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. He fought in Italy and Germany, and was killed on October 6, 1944, during a combat mission related to Operation Market-Garden, the largest airborne operation of all time.

Other Hispanic families, like the Sandovals, had multiple members join the Armed Forces. The Banuelo family, originally from Mexico and who resided in Los Angeles, California, the Garcia family from Los Angeles, California, the Hernandez family from Poteet, Texas, and the Mora family from Laredo, Texas, each had six siblings who served in the military during the war. The Nevarez family, from Los Angeles, California, had a total of eight siblings serving in the armed forces.

Another entry on the Wikipedia page gives additional information in, “Hispanic Americans in World War II.” This details more Hispanic heroics during war against the Axis Powers: “A ’flying ace’ or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The term ’ace in a day’ is used to designate a fighter pilot who has shot down five or more enemy aircraft in a single day. Since World War I, a number of pilots have been honored as ’Ace in a Day’; however, the honor of being the last ’Ace in a Day’ for the United States in World War II belongs to First Lieutenant Oscar Francis Perdomo of the 464th Fighter Squadron, 507th Fighter Group.

First Lieutenant Perdomo, (1919–1976), the son of Mexican parents, was born in El Paso, Texas. When the war broke out, Perdomo joined the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) as an aviation cadet and was trained to pilot the P-47 Thunderbolt. After receiving his pilot training, he was assigned to the 464th Fighter Squadron, which was part of the 507th Fighter Group that was sent to the Pacific Island of Ie Shima off the west coast of Okinawa.

The atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, but while the Allies awaited Japan's response to the demand to surrender, the war continued. On August 13, 1945, 1st Lt. Perdomo shot down four Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" fighters and one Yokosuka K5Y "Willow" Type 93 biplane trainer. This action took place near Keijo/Seoul, Korea when 38 Thunderbolts of the 507th Fighter Wing encountered approximately 50 enemy aircraft. This action was Lt. Perdomo's tenth and final combat mission, and the five confirmed victories made him an ’Ace in a Day’ and earned him the distinction of being the last ’Ace’ of World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action and the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster.”

Other Hispanics served with distinction in aerial combat as well, among which are the following men whose names are placed in accordance to their ranks: Commander Eugene A. Valencia, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel Donald S. Lopez, Sr., Captain Michael Brezas, Captain Mihiel "Mike" Gilormini, Captain Alberto A. Nido, Captain Robert L. Cardenas, 2nd Lieutenant César Luis González, First Lieutenant Francisco Mercado, Jr, Lieutenant Richard Gomez Candelaria, Lieutenant José Antonio Muñiz, Lieutenant Arthur Van Haren, Jr., Technical Sergeant Clement Resto and Corporal Frank Medina.“

The share of racial and ethnic minorities in the military has grown steadily in recent decades. Hispanics, in particular, are the fastest growing minority population in the military – a shift that aligns with larger demographic trends in the United States.

This year, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation:

Proclamation on Hispanic Heritage Month, 2020:

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the countless contributions of more than 60 million Hispanic Americans to our culture and society. Hispanic Americans are the largest minority group in the United States today, and generations of Hispanic Americans have consistently helped make our country strong and prosperous. They contribute to our Nation beyond description. Hispanic Americans embody the best of our American values, including commitment to faith, family, and country. They serve in our military and protect us as members of law enforcement. In fact, Hispanic Americans make up half of our Border Patrol agents. The Hispanic-American community has left an indelible mark on our government, culture, and economy.

As part of our commitment to promoting the success of Hispanic Americans, my Administration will always promote educational opportunity for our Nation’s Hispanic-American communities. Hispanic Americans benefit greatly from school choice programs, including the Nation’s largest school choice program in Florida, where more than one-third of the recipients are Hispanic-American students. No American student should ever be trapped in a failing public school or a school that does not meet his individual needs. Additionally, we have spurred the creation of more than 16 million education and training opportunities through our Pledge to the American Worker.

My Administration is also working to increase economic opportunities for Hispanic Americans by providing pathways to in-demand jobs and investing in Hispanic-American communities. On July 9, 2020, I signed an Executive Order to establish the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative to promote educational and workforce development, encourage private-sector action and public-private partnerships, and to monitor how Federal programs best provide opportunities for Hispanic Americans. Additionally, this Executive Order established the President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity, which is dedicated to advising my Administration on ways to improve access to educational and economic opportunities for the Hispanic-American community. This year, my Administration also delivered $1 billion in funding to Minority-Serving Institutions, including Hispanic-Serving Institutions. And since I signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 into law, nearly 9,000 Opportunity Zones have attracted an estimated $75 billion in new capital investment in economically distressed areas, helping to bring wealth and jobs to the neighborhoods where many Hispanic Americans live.

We are already seeing the positive results of these policies in communities throughout the United States. In the 2017-2018 academic year, the graduation rate for Hispanic students at public high schools rose to 81%, the highest level ever recorded. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the median income for Hispanic Americans had reached its highest level in history. Unemployment reached the lowest rate ever recorded. The poverty rate for Hispanic Americans also hit a record low. And from 2017 to 2018, 362,000 Hispanic Americans became new homeowners, the largest net gain for Hispanics since 2005. In the past 4 months as we have recovered from the coronavirus, we added 3.3 million jobs for Hispanic Americans. It is my promise to the Hispanic-American community and to all Americans that my Administration will continue to do everything in its power to rebuild the economy, ensure opportunity, grow wages, and cut regulations so every family can achieve their own American Dream.

Hispanic Americans will play an incredible role in our country’s great years to come, and my Administration proudly stands with them. Their steadfast commitment to America’s core values, their steadfast opposition to socialism, and their innumerable contributions to our prosperity enrich our Nation and add to our unmatched culture and way of life.

To honor the achievements of Hispanic Americans, the Congress, by Public Law 100-402, as amended, has authorized and requested the President to issue annually a proclamation designating September 15 through October 15 as “National Hispanic Heritage Month.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 15 through October 15, 2020, as National Hispanic Heritage Month. I call on public officials, educators, librarians, and all Americans to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fourteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.

DONALD J. TRUMP

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Mrs. Melania Trump participate in the Hispanic Heritage Month Event in the East Room of the White House Friday, October 5, 2017, in Washington, D.C.