“I can think of no other time in my 23-year career when it has been more important to acknowledge, inform and celebrate the diversity of our nation and our military than right now,” said Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Barr, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) director.
Barr shared his sentiments welcoming attendees to WRNMMC observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 30 at the medical center.
“We are the most culturally-diverse country on the planet, and it is that variety of wisdom, experience, innovation and culture, coupled with our inherent freedoms, that makes us the greatest nation in the world,” Barr continued.
“The 6,300 individuals who comprise WRNMMC come from every culture, gender, religion, identity and ability to form one team united in the common mission of service to patients, families and each other to provide the highest quality, safest health care available through clinical, academic, research and administrative domains,” the WRNMMC director added.
“Each member of our team is equally important to that mission and must be acknowledged, respected and valued for their contribution,” Barr stated.
He added recognizing diversity is not enough. “We must continue our work toward complete inclusion of our diverse workforce and the opportunities afforded by our great nation, government and military.”
“It is through the purposeful listening of each other’s stories, and with open minds, that we gain greater knowledge of what it means to be Americans, and through that understanding, that we build a stronger nation,” Barr concluded.
Navy Capt. Ruben Acosta, WRNMMC’s director for Education Training and Research, also spoke at the observance. He said the U.S. Hispanic population reached 60.6 million in 2019, accounting for 18 percent of the nation’s population. Of this number, about 37 million are of Mexican origin, and those of Puerto Rican origins are the next largest group at 5.8 million.
“About 80 percent of Latinos living in the country are U.S. citizens.”
Acosta said as of June 2018, approximately 59,000 active and Reserve Sailors of Hispanic heritage serve in the U.S. Navy. He added 61 people of Hispanic heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor – two Sailors, 13 Marines and 46 Soldiers.
“My mother and father were raised on the island of Puerto Rico,” Acosta continued. He shared that his father came to the mainland while still in high school and lived in Connecticut. “Despite working hard to learn English, he can remember being laughed at for his ascent.” He said his father improved his vocabulary by looking up words in the dictionary. His father went on to attend the University of Connecticut, earning a poetry prize during his sophomore year, and graduating with a 3.4 grade point average. Acosta’s father went on to earn a law degree, attending school at night while working a full-time job and having three children.
His mother came to the mainland at the age of 8 and was the first of her seven siblings to graduate from college. She also earned a master’s degree and became a high school teacher.
“It is only by celebrating our diversity that we will begin to be able to recognize our strength that will enable us to conquer our future challenges,” Acosta concluded.
“Through the years, I have come to believe that we need to know our history so we can evaluate ourselves in the present while looking forward into the future,” said Army Maj. Edwin Gandia, chief of molecular pathology at WRNMMC and another speaker at the observance. He said Hispanics comprise about 16 percent of the total active duty military force, 14 percent of senior enlisted, 12 percent of warrant officers, 8 percent of all officers and 2 percent of general officers.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Avilsi Nunez explained Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 because significant events impacting the Hispanic and Latino communities occurred between these dates. In 1821, five Hispanic countries — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — all declared their independence between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. Also, Mexico, Chile and Belize celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16, Sept. 18, and Sept. 21 respectively.
A member of WRNMMC Multicultural Committee, who sponsored the observance, Nunez said, “Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on this country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work and service. They have enhanced and shaped our nation’s character and centuries-old traditions that reflect the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic customs of these communities.”