The Frontier Club was filled with a taste of Hispanic culture during an event hosted by the Navy in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 24.
Attendees arrived to the rhythmic sound of Cumbias, dance music of Columbian origin, and Hispanic food samplings at their tables.
“Today we honor the cultural differences that strengthen the Army and that strengthen the United States of America. We celebrate the common goals and love for the United States of America that bind us together,” said guest speaker Dr. Jose Garcia, Secretary of the New Mexico Higher Education Department.
Keeping with this year’s theme, Garcia spoke about the history, the present, and the future of Hispanic heritage.
He began with a brief history lesson. Garcia said the observance of National Hispanic Heritage month begins on Sept. 15 each year because that date marks the anniversary of Central America’s independence from Spain. Gaining independence from Spain ultimately led to New Mexico becoming part of the United States in 1846.
The state of New Mexico has about 1 million persons of Hispanic descent and is seeing more Hispanic voters, according to Garcia.
“Spanish is spoken today with about half a billion persons world-wide… making it the third most spoken language in the world,” Garcia said. “In the United States, 54 million persons identify themselves as Hispanic today.”
To put the population number into perspective, Garcia said if those identifying themselves as Hispanic in the U.S. formed a separate country, it would be the second largest country in the world after Mexico.
According to Garcia, the Hispanic population and the Asian population are the only populations that are significantly growing in the United States. He said one out of four persons under the age of 18 is Hispanic, and 45 years from now one out of three voters will be Hispanic.
Along with population growth, the Hispanic purchasing power is also increasing, according to Garcia. Between 1990 and 2011, Hispanic purchasing power grew by 457 percent. In 2011, he said $5.7 billion was spent on advertisements targeting Hispanic viewers.
He said high school graduation rates of Hispanics have caught up and surpassed the overall high school graduation rates. As for college education, he said more Hispanics are enrolling in college, but their dropout rates are high.
“We are trying very hard to make strides and create a great equality among everybody in terms of education in the state of New Mexico,” Garcia, who has served as the Secretary of Higher Education since December 2010, said.
WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin thanked Garcia and the band for their participation in the celebration and presented them with certificates of appreciation.
“It has been exciting for me to see, and to know and embrace, the values and cultures that are brought in by those of Hispanic origin,” Coffin said during his closing remarks.
“I ask that this not just be a one-day celebration for everybody, but rather be a part of the way we live life, embracing those of other cultures around us and learning to appreciate them and value their contributions.”
Anthony and the Nite Liters, a local Las Cruces band, continued playing at the end of the celebration. The band played songs to include: “La Bamba” and “Usted” described as a “love song from the 1930s.”