By Bonnie and Bill Neely
Each year from September 15 to October 15, with many Hispanic Heritage Festivals the United States celebrates the contribution Hispanic people have made to this country. The observance was first in 1968 for only a week, but in 1988 it officially was expanded to be one month. Nationwide there are fun activities including festivals, art shows, conferences, community gatherings, and much more. In Greenville, SC, we attended our first one in 2022, held in Flour Field in the downtown West End, to honor our many Hispanic friends. We have traveled to some of these Latino countries and appreciate the courage, talents, beauty, and kindness of the people we have met in each. The Greenville festival beautifully showcased Latin American countries including: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, and Spain.
In 2021 President Biden made a proclamation stating, “National Hispanic Heritage Month is an important reminder of how much strength we draw as a Nation from our immigrant roots and our values as a Nation of immigrants.” I was touched that he reminds us that most of us have immigrant roots. I have never been able to understand how people can look down on anyone who speaks with a foreign accent. To me, people who can speak two languages are so intelligent and have struggled to have the confidence to enter school or business here in the USA. We are well aware of what a struggle it was for each one to immigrate here and to obtain enough documentation to remain.
As the Star-Spangled Banner played I noted that every Hispanic person there stood proudly at attention, placing hand or hat over their hearts. They do not take the privileges and rights we have in USA lightly, as so many of us born here forget to be thankful for.
This Hispanic Heritage Festival, presented by AHAM, was to raise money for educational opportunities for Latinos here. AHAM is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote higher education among high school students of Hispanic descent through educational scholarships in the Upstate SC. South Carolina. There were booths from colleges, businesses, attorneys, insurance agencies, and other businesses which can aid immigrants in their attempts to assimilate and become educated citizens. There were many food booths and food trucks, all serving tasty Hispanic foods, which we love and were eager to learn of the various local restaurants which feature the delicious spicy traditional dishes.
We have been to a number of the countries represented and always have been so impressed by the ways in which the people can take the same ingredients of tortillas, tomatoes, rice, beans, cheese, onions, peppers, avocados, eggs, and spices and create so many different, delicious foods. It was fun to be able to order from so many food vendors in one place, knowing each has a local restaurant which we can frequent.
Having lived in hot countries with lots of sunshine and flowers, Hispanic artists use vibrant colors, and it seems nearly everyone of Latino heritage has tremendous artistic talents, expressed in visual art, dances, music, floral arrangements, outstanding costumes, and amazing creations of useful and toy items. One or more booths representing each of these countries had beautiful displays of items made in each home country. Some were just for demonstrating the handwork, and some items were for sale. Artists were busy at work drawing and painting as the crowds watched.
Visitors of all nationalities and many local citizens clapped enthusiastically, and cameras and phones clicked constantly taking photos of the multi-colored, lively dance presentations of each country. The dancers proudly stood with their country’s flag before the traditional dance. The happy, vibrant music had each of us joyfully moving with the rhythm. Mariachi band members played in their dignified uniforms and wide hats, all bejeweled with silver ornaments. This fabulous display was concluded with the Parade of Nations, in which the USA performers and flag were also featured.
This happy festival creates excellent scholarship and business opportunities for Hispanic people and is a great way to engage local citizens with appreciation for the Hispanic culture. We highly recommend attending a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration in your community and appreciating the lovely people who are our neighbors.