WEST POINT, N.Y. -- West Point celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month with the annual Hispanic Festival Sept. 25 at Eisenhower Hall. Nearly 200 cadets, faculty, staff and community members sampled a variety of Latin food and listened and danced to Latin music.
"This is a great way to bring awareness of the Hispanic culture to the community and to those who may want to learn the language," Class of 2013 Cadet Andrew Villarreal, cadet-in-charge, said.
Villarreal also served as master of ceremonies and spoke to the audience about notable Hispanic alumni of the U.S. Military Academy.
"Maj. Gen. Luis Estevez was the first Hispanic to graduate from West Point with the Class of 1915," Villarreal said. "His classmates were President Dwight Eisenhower and Gen. Omar Bradley. They paved the way for future cadets of Hispanic descent."
Villarreal also mentioned Dr. Richard Morales Jr., who was the first Puerto Rican selected as cadet first captain and graduated with the Class of 1976 as a Rhodes Scholar.
Hispanic heritage was first celebrated in 1968 under the Johnson Administration with a week set aside for events. President Ronald Reagan increased the Hispanic Heritage celebration to a month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The month of September is significant to the Hispanic culture. September 15 is the day that Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua celebrate their independence. Mexico celebrates its independence Sept. 16 and Chile celebrates Sept. 18.
Attendees sampled Latin dishes and danced to salsa music performed by the West Point Band who joined Jimmy Sabater Jr., a local musician whose father created the short-lived Boogaloo craze of the early '60s and '70s and was known as the velvet voice of Latin soul.
Col. Kevin Huggins, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, enjoyed the event and sees it as a way his children can learn something about the culture.
"My wife is from Panama and our second daughter was born in Panama," Huggins said. "It's a way of keeping it in the forefront. They have a (Hispanic) background and it's a way for the children to get a taste of their heritage."
Another EECS faculty member, Lt. Col. Paul Maxwell, brought his children to the event.
"This is an interesting opportunity to explore different cultures," Maxwell said.
His wife, Rene, said she studied Spanish in college and has always been interested in the Hispanic culture.
"It's a beautiful culture and beautiful language," she said. "We have children from another culture. We have one biological child, one adopted from China and another is Vietnamese."
Dr. Jonathan Steigman, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages, spoke about Hispanics who contributed to national defense.
"Our fellow Hispanic citizens have a long history of service in the United States military, which dates back to the American Revolution," Steigman said. "That legacy includes 43 Hispanic recipients of the Medal of Honor, the country's highest military decoration."
Steigman quoted from Defense Department publications regarding Hispanics in America's defense: "When our country has been in need, Hispanic Americans have had more than their share of stouthearted, indomitable men. Their intrepid actions have been in the highest tradition."
The Cadet Spanish Club, West Point Equal Opportunity Office and the Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic sponsored the event.