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Nat'l Hispanic Month More Meaningful… Jersey Boricuas' Heritage Event Unites Families, Salutes Soldier

Nat'l Hispanic Month More Meaningful

Tom Berger

September 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Marshfield News-Herald. All rights reserved.

The culture of this nation's Hispanic residents officially has been celebrated since 1968, when Congress authorized President Johnson to designate seven days in September as National Hispanic Heritage Week.

In 1988, the observance was expanded to a month-long celebration. National Hispanic Heritage Month began this week, and it perhaps has more meaning now than at any time in the last 36 years.

Sept. 15 was chosen to begin the celebration because it is the date of independence of five Latin American countries. Mexico's independence day is Sept. 16, and Chile's is Sept. 18.

About 40 million Hispanics live in the United States, making them the largest ethnic minority in the country. And that number only will grow.

Wood County now is home to an estimated 700 Hispanics, the count in Marathon County and Portage County is about 1,000 each, and Clark and Taylor counties are at 400 and 100-plus, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

The village of Curtiss in Clark County is Wisconsin's most Hispanic community, with 68 Hispanics among its 198 residents, more than one of every three persons.

Throughout our history, natives of Spanish-speaking countries have made vast contributions to American culture.

Beginning in the Revolutionary War, Hispanics have fought in every conflict to defend their adopted nation. In fact, 39 have won the Medal of Honor, this county's highest military honor.

As settlers pushed West during the Gold Rush, they adopted mining and irrigation techniques from Mexico, Peru and Chile. And the most enduring American image, that of the proud and independent cowboy, is based almost entirely upon Mexican cowhands, the vaqueros.

Hispanic contributions don't end with the Old West. In 1959, Dr. Severo Ochoa won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery of RNA, one of the cellular building blocks of life.

Antonia Novello was both the first woman and first Latina to serve as surgeon general. After her appointment by President George Bush in 1990, Novello took on the powerful tobacco industry and its use of cartoon characters such as Joe Camel.

And almost every American owes a debt to Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers union who led a 30-year nonviolent fight for civil rights and fair working conditions for migrant workers.

Today, people of Hispanic and Latin heritage face another challenge - access to quality health care.

"Access is a big issue," said Dr. Fred Groos, medical director of Family Health/La Clinica of Wautoma.

"It really comes down to transportation - how do they pay for it without insurance, and how do they get to the clinic?"

In Marshfield, free medical services are provided through St. Vincent de Paul, a charity with offices on Central Avenue. Melina Kolbeck, Spanish service coordinator at the Marshfield Clinic and a native of Mexico, deals with hundreds of immigrant families, mostly from the Abbotsford, Colby, Curtiss or Stratford areas.

"They know I'm at the clinic now,"she said. "My name is everywhere. I get a lot of first-time callers who have heard about our services word-of-mouth."

Immigrants face hurdles the native-born population doesn't even consider, such as legal status. When the Stratford Police Department detained several undocumented immigrants, who eventually were deported, it sent a chill down health-care workers' spines.

Since then, some other Hispanics - fearful of authorities - have been less likely to seek help. It's more difficult for others, such as our reporters, to make connections. Once they do, it shouldn't be difficult for central Wisconsin residents to understand Hispanics, because they have so much in common.

Hispanics have a strong Catholic tradition, as do so many people born and raised in this area. They also share the high value Midwesterners place on hard work.

"What is important to them is family, their children's education and to have a better life for their children here," said Lydia Albright, one of the founders of Latinos Unidos, or Latinos United, in Marathon County. Albright was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Wausau after marrying a Wisconsin native.

Albright said she already sees a blending of cultures beginning in central Wisconsin, and she hopes a month encouraging the celebration of Hispanic heritage will help.

"I think people here are starting to welcome Hispanics more now," she said. "People are starting to be aware that they're very sweet people and their goals are not too different than the goals of the average person. They're taking steps to learn some Spanish, and the schools are doing a better job of making it easier for Hispanic children to understand English so they can learn."

With the foundation Kolbeck and others are laying, access to medical care also appears to be improving.

Those are trends we all can celebrate this month.

Puerto Rican Pride On Parade - Jersey Boricuas' Heritage Event Unites Families, Salutes Soldier



September 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Star-Ledger. All rights reserved.

The rhythm of the congas and timbales pulsed through North Newark yesterday as steam rose from freshly fried alcapurias and as grandmothers tore up the sidewalk showing off the salsa steps they learned in Puerto Rico.

The gusty fall day had thou sands of Puerto Rican flags flap ping as Boricuas from all over the state lined Bloomfield Avenue from Broadway to Branch Brook for the annual Desfile Estatal Puertori queno de New Jersey, or Puerto Rican Parade of New Jersey.

"Nobody reps where they're from like we do," said Frank Acosta Jr., 17, of Jersey City, a giant flag tied around his neck.

Vendors ran a brisk business hawking Puerto Rico-themed trin kets, from bead necklaces to straw hats, as deejays aboard floats filled the air with the familiar salsa and Merengue as well as the newest Latino music craze, reggaeton.

At one point, the crowd wildly joined in the famous chorus of a song celebrating the beauty of the Puerto Rican flag, singing "Que bonita bandera la bandera Puerto riquena!" loud enough for the entire city to hear.

Yesterday's parade was very much a family affair as clans three and four generations strong set up their lawn chairs or took up seats on the curb to enjoy the festivities.

Dennis Agosto, 27, and his wife Geeta, 24, have been coming to the parade since they were kids grow ing up in the neighborhood. Now, Agosto said, they bring their three young children to instill in them "orgullo," or pride, for their Puerto Rican heritage.

"It's good to see so many Puerto Ricans come out here to celebrate our race," said Agosto, a truck driver.

Radames Diaz was raised in Puerto Rico but moved to New Jersey in 1992, the year before his son Christian was born. He brought Christian to the parade this year to impart some of the culture he was missing growing up in Newark.

"It's important for them to learn the culture, to see it," Diaz said in Spanish.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 366,788 Puerto Ricans live in New Jersey. In Newark, there are 39,650 Puerto Ricans, the largest Hispanic group.

For Milagros Perez, this year's parade had an even deeper significance than national pride. Earlier in the morning, Parker Street was renamed in memory of her husband, Army Sgt. Joel Perez, a local Puerto Rican who was killed in Iraq in November when his helicopter was shot down near Fallujah.

"It's good and sad in a way be cause he's not here," said Perez, who watched the parade with the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Jai leen. Perez said she would keep coming to the parade to show Jai leen what her father was fighting for.

"He was Puerto Rican and he died fighting for us," Perez said.

1. Flanked by flags, little Ivon Berrios sits regally atop a car as her two brothers, Jose and Josue, talk with her during the Puerto Rican Parade of New Jersey on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark yesterday. 2. Turning the streets of Newark into a celebration of culture and family, crowds gather to experience the food, music and spirit of Puerto Rico.

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