Holá! – Garrison celebrates Hispanic heritage, culture

Cover Story

The National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Oct. 5 featured the Epes Dental Clinic Folkloric Dancers performing a merengue salsa dance at McGill. (Photos by Phil Grout)

The colorful national flags of Mexico, Puerto Rico, and countries of Central and South America lined the ballroom stage at McGill Training Center on Oct. 5.

The festive decor celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is observed in the United States from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Elba Cassort, a dental assistant with the Dental Health Activity, performs a dance from her native Panama during Fort Meade’s observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month on Oct. 5.

The Dental Health Activity and the Fort Meade Equal Opportunity Office co-sponsored the 90-minute observance, which featured folkloric dance performances and a catered lunch from Taqueria Los Primos, a Mexican restaurant in Laurel.

“It was such a pleasure to come and support all the Latin and Hispanic members of the clinic,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Janice Allison, a dentist at the Epes Dental Clinic. “I haven’t seen anything this fabulous in all my 20 years of service.”

The DHA displayed cultural artifacts throughout the ballroom.

The artifacts included a pandereta plena, a percussion instrument from Puerto Rico; El Pilon, a wooden bowl and grinder used by the Taino Indians of Puerto Rico to mash foods; hats, liquor bottles and ceramic plates from Mexico; a bottle of picante ketchup from Panama; a set of maracas from Puerto Rico; Santo Domingo coffee; and cigars from Cuba.

Col. Rafael Caraballo, commander of DHA, was the guest speaker.

Staff Sgt. Nikki Woods of DHA served as emcee. Sgt. 1st Class Charis Strange, a vocalist with the U.S. Army Field Band, sang the national anthem. Chaplain (Maj.) Dwayne I. Hughes of Fort Meade’s Family Life Ministry gave the invocation.

Dancing To The Music

The theme for the month’s observance is “Shaping the Bright Future of America.”

The roots of Hispanic Heritage Month date back to 1968. The observance begins each year on Sept. 15, the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Col. Rafael Caraballo, commander of Dental Health Activity, speaks about his Hispanic heritage during the observance co-hosted by DHA.

Mexico, Chile and Belize also celebrate their independence days during this period and Columbus Day is observed on Oct. 12, according to the Hispanic Heritage Month website.

The website explains that the term “Hispanic” or “Latino” refers to Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or others of Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. Today, 55 million people, or 17 percent of the American population, are of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to the website.

During the Fort Meade observance, Col. Jose Condo, commander of the Dental Health Command-Atlantic at Fort Belvoir, Va., gave the opening remarks.

Condo then asked for a moment of silence for the survivors — and those who lost their lives — in recent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria.

The celebration began with a performance by the Epes Dental Clinic Folkloric Dancers: dental assistants Elba Cassort and Betzaida Encinas, Sgt. Nelson Caban and Sgt. Katty Lora Nava. The group performed a merengue salsa dance while waving miniature American flags.

Cassort, whose family lineage originates in Panama, performed a traditional Panamanian dance. At the end of the dance, she waved the country’s flag.

In his speech, Caraballo talked about his family’s influences on his life and how they led him to join the Army.

“It is an honor for me to talk to you about my development and the future of our next generation,” he said.

Caraballo was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. In 1986 he earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Puerto Rico and completed the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as a distinguished military graduate. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in field artillery.

In 1998, he earned a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from the University of Puerto Rico.

“I was brought up by my parents and grandparents,” Caraballo said. “My grandparents gave me some of the values that we need to move ahead and succeed.

“If you have the fortitude to say ‘I want to do something,’ then you have the ability to do it.”

Visitors study displays and artifacts from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Central and South America.

An Army Tradition

Caraballo said his grandfather, who was born in Puerto Rico and left school in second grade to work on his family’s farm, was drafted into the Army and served in World War I.

“He always spoke about his great experience in the Army,” Caraballo said. “He told me, ‘Get an education and go into the Army. Whatever you want to do, you can do it.’ ”

One of the advantages of serving in the Army, Caraballo said, is the opportunity to meet people of other cultures.

“It was amazing how much I could learn and how much I could share with the other cultures. That helped me to grow as an individual and helped me to become who I am now,” he said.

“The Army is an amazing organization due to its diversity. We are one organization, one crew.”

Caraballo said the “future is bright” for the next generation of Soldiers.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you have the courage and you want to get it done, you can do it. It’s up to you,” he said.

After the presentation, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard thanked Caraballo and the dancers for their contributions to the event. He presented Caraballo with a plaque of appreciation. The dancers received a certificate of appreciation.

Raul Schuett, who works in the Fort Meade Plans, Analysis and Integration Office and is of Bolivian descent, said the observance is important.

“It is a reminder to people that a lot was brought by different cultures to bring us together to make this an amazing country,” he said. “People have overcome many barriers and it is a testament to many who are still struggling.”

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