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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Honoring Hispanic Heritage


October 7, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All Rights Reserved.

Hispanics in the U.S. have made significant contributions to all aspects of American life, from culture to business, civics to entertainment. Here are a few Hispanics to remember during Hispanic Heritage Month - Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Baseball player Roberto Clemente (1934-1972)

A member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente was an outstanding hitter and right fielder, winner of batting awards as well as 12 consecutive Golden Glove awards. He was the National League MVP in 1966 and the hero of the 1971 World Series, where he batted over .400.

Off the field, Clemente was a humanitarian, often delivering supplies to people in need.

"I want to be remembered as a ball player who gave all he had to give," Clemente said of his efforts.

While carrying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year's Eve in 1972, Clemente was in a fatal airplane crash. In 1973, instead of waiting the customary five years, Major League Baseball inducted Clemente into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Hispanic so honored.

Clemente also was honored twice - in 1984 and 2000 - with his picture on a U.S. postage stamp.

Labor Activist Dolores Huerta (1930- )

Dolores Huerta was born in New Mexico and moved to California when her parents divorced. Her mother ran a restaurant and hotel that housed many farm workers. The workers' hard lives affected Huerta from an early age, and she grew up to help establish the United Farm Workers of America.

Huerta became a teacher but gave it up because, she said: "I couldn't stand seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children."

Huerta was active against segregation and police brutality. She started registering Hispanics to vote and led an effort in the 1960s to get California to provide ballots in Spanish.

Huerta and Cesar Chavez built what eventually became the UFW. In a tense and difficult period, they led a strike and then negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement for farm workers.

Huerta is secretary-treasurer of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, and has been an activist against toxic chemicals. She has 11 children, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

In 1999, President Clinton presented Huerta with the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, recognizing her significant contribution in the field of civil rights.

Hero of Texas' War for Independence Col. Juan N. Seguin (1806-1890)

Juan Seguin was a political and military figure of the Texas Revolution and Republic of Texas who fought for Texas but found himself exiled for being Hispanic.

Seguin was born in 1806 into a long-established family in San Antonio. Seguin's father had been an ally of revolutionary leader Stephen F. Austin. Seguin was provisional mayor of San Antonio and led a band of Tejanos -as Texans of Mexican descent are known - against Santa Anna's army in 1835.

At the Alamo for the first part of Santa Anna's attack in 1836, Seguin survived and went on to lead his company at the decisive battle of San Jacinto, which marked the creation of the Republic of Texas.

However, Seguin soon learned that he and many other Hispanics were not welcome in white-ruled Texas. Despite his war hero status , Seguin was suspected of being loyal to Mexico and found himself forced to return to the country he had helped defeat.

"A victim to the wickedness of a few men ... a foreigner in my native land; could I be expected to stoically endure their outrages and insults?" he wrote.

When he arrived in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in 1842, he was arrested and told to serve in the Mexican army or go to prison. Seguin ended up fighting in the Mexican-American War against the United States. After the war, he returned to Texas but was harassed and returned to Nuevo Laredo, where he died.

Entrepreneurs Prudencio and Carolina Unanue

Don Prudencio Unanue (1886-1976) was born in the Basque region of northern Spain. He immigrated to the island of Puerto Rico in 1902 where he met and became engaged to Dona Carolina Casal Valdes (1890-1984).

The couple moved to New York and immediately saw an opportunity to supply Spanish staples such as olives, olive oil and sardines to the city's growing Hispanic community.

Goya Foods Inc., founded in 1936, is now the country's largest Hispanic-owned company. Its line includes more than 1,000 products, including rice, beans and seasonings. What were once exotic, hard-to-find items for the Latino population can now be found in grocery stores everywhere.

Goya Foods' name honors the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya. The company employs more than 2,000 people worldwide, and its slogan is the familiar: "Si es GOYA, tiene que ser bueno" - "If it's GOYA, it has to be good."

The company, headquartered in Secaucus, N.J., continues to be family-owned. On its 60th anniversary in 1996, New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani issued a proclamation in honor of the company founders.

"What began as a small store on Duane Street in Lower Manhattan became the foundation of the Goya empire," Guiliani said.

Goya Foods is also an active supporter of several cultural and community programs such as the Ballet Hispanico and the Puerto Rico Traveling Theatre.

Designer Oscar de la Renta (1936- )

Oscar de la Renta, one of the fashion industry's most prominent designers, led the way for Hispanic fashion.

A native of the Dominican Republic, de la Renta is known for his soft, feminine styles and an unwavering sense of chic in his couture collections.

His designs and perfumes have been honored by critics, and his clothes are worn by some of the world's most glamorous women, from New York socialites to Hollywood stars.

De la Renta left the Dominican Republic at 18 to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. While living in Spain, he discovered his talents for fashion and began sketching for leading Spanish fashion houses, which led to an apprenticeship with the famous Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga. In 1963, de la Renta traveled to New York. Two years later, he started his own label.

De la Renta has won numerous fashion awards. In 1990 the Council of Fashion Designers of America presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. With his Spring 1993 collection for the house of Pierre Balmain, de la Renta became the first American to design for a French couture house. In 1996, de la Renta received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hispanic Heritage Society.

In addition to his fashion designs, de la Renta maintains an active interest in his native country, funding the Casa de Ninos, a 630-bed orphanage, through an annual fashion show.

Artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

To many art historians, Diego Rivera is the greatest Mexican painter of the 20th century, one who influenced a generation with his vivid colors, controversial themes and breakthrough use of murals.

A Marxist, Rivera saw murals as a way to return art to the people and away from galleries and museums. Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, he studied in Europe for 14 years but decided to return to Mexico to apply his theories of art by painting giant frescoes of Mexican history.

In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Rivera traveled to Detroit where, at the behest of Henry Ford, he painted a mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts honoring the American worker.

In New York, he ran afoul of the Rockefellers. Commissioned to paint a mural about the 20th century for the lobby of the RCA building in Rockefeller Center, "Man at the Crossroads," Rivera included a May Day demonstration of workers marching with red banners. The Rockefellers demanded the mural be changed. When Rivera refused, his work was destroyed, an action that only increased Rivera's fame.

"An artist is above all a human being, profoundly human to the core," Rivera said. "If the artist can't feel everything that humanity feels, if the artist isn't capable of loving until he forgets himself and sacrifices himself if necessary, if he won't put down his magic brush and head the fight against the oppressor, then he isn't a great artist."

Civil War Hero David Farragut (1801-1870)

David Farragut, the first admiral of the U.S. Navy, was one of the North's strongest leaders in the Civil War. He became famous for calling out, "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!"

Born in Tennessee, Farragut was the son of Jorge Farragut, a native of Minorca, one of Spain's Balearic Islands. Jorge Farragut was from a seafaring family that emigrated to America in 1776 and served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

At sea by the age of 8, David Farragut served in the Navy all his life, but the Civil War was his defining moment. At age 61, Farragut commanded a fleet and seized New Orleans, taking possession of the city on April 28, 1862.

In the battle of Mobile Bay that began Aug. 5, 1864, Farragut climbed the rigging of his ship and lashed himself near the top of the mainsail to see through the smoke of battle. When one of his ships hit a torpedo and sank, the fleet came to a halt. Then Farragut gave his famous cry: "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"

In 1866, Farragut became America's first admiral. A statue of him is in a Washington, D.C., park known as Farragut Square.

Entertainer and Producer Desi Arnaz (1917-1986)

Desi Arnaz is an icon for Spanish-speaking baby boomers who grew up watching him on "I Love Lucy" in the 1950s. As Ricky Ricardo, he yelled in Spanish at Lucille Ball, his real and TV wife, for her wild antics. It was and still is the most Spanish spoken on regular network television.

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Archa III was born in 1917 to wealthy Cuban landowners, but he and his family fled to Miami in the 1930s because of troubles in their homeland.

A musician and singer, the good-looking crooner soon began appearing on stage and screen, where he met Ball on the set of a movie. After they married, the couple came up with the idea for the TV series but had to fight network executives who didn't think someone with an accent would work on American television.

Early in 1951, the couple used their entire savings of $5,000 to produce a film pilot, and the show became a long-running staple of American life. Arnaz made the couple a fortune through the company he ran, DesiLu Productions. Although he is known for being Lucy's straight man, Arnaz was also a successful producer and introduced the three-camera format in the live television comedy. He also produced "December Bride," "Make Room for Daddy," and "The Untouchables."

Musician Tito Puente (1923-2000)

Latin jazz percussionist Tito Puente wowed audiences with his flashy style, delicate musicality and vibrant rhythms. A New Yorker with Puerto Rican parents, Puente became the "King of the Mambo," or "El Rey," in the late 1940s as the Cuban music craze hit the United States.

His flamboyant stage manner combined with a long recording career to make him one of the most beloved symbols of Latin jazz. He was a virtuoso of the timbales or kettledrum and was famous for his solos. Puente changed with the times, playing big band jazz, bossa nova, Broadway songs, and pop music. It was Puente who wrote the 1963 song, "Oye Como Va," which became Carlos Santana's breakout rock n' roll hit.

Puente recorded his 100th album "The Mambo King" in 1991 and won five Grammy awards in his lifetime, one just months before he died. Several months later, Puente was honored at the first annual Latin Grammy Awards, winning for Best Traditional Tropical Performance for "Mambo Birdland."

Politician Henry B. Gonzalez (1916-2000)

Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-Texas, affectionately known as "Henry B." in his native San Antonio, was also the "father of modern Hispanic politics" and a maverick who championed the poor and disenfranchised.

Born May 3, 1916, to Mexican immigrants, Gonzalez earned a law degree and became a pioneer in politics at a time of discrimination against Hispanics. He was the first Hispanic elected to the San Antonio City Council, and he won a seat in the state legislature in the 1950s. He once led a 36-hour filibuster in the Legislature that blocked a series of segregationist bills that would have undercut the civil rights of blacks and Hispanics.

Gonzalez was the first Hispanic to run for a statewide political office in Texas. He eventually won a House seat in a special election in 1961 - a seat he would easily hold until he retired in 1998. His son, Charlie, succeeded him.

In his 37-year congressional career, Gonzalez became a national figure as chairman of the House Banking Committee from 1989 to 1995, using the forum to investigate the savings and loan scandal and to promote affordable housing.

A colorful, eccentric figure, he also won notoriety in 1986 for slugging a constituent in a San Antonio restaurant who called him a "communist."

He was a friend of President John F. Kennedy and in 1994 was awarded the Profile in Courage award by the John F. Kennedy Library.


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