The monthlong celebration of Hispanic heritage opened Sept. 15. African-Americans have their month in February, and other groups have similar observances throughout the year.
With reverence similar to that for our saints, we celebrate the lives of our ancestors. We realize that who we are and what we achieve are the products not only of our own efforts but also of those who came before us. It is not only the ancestors we knew but also remote ones as well. We may know little about their lives, but what they yearned and worked for seem to be imprinted in our DNA.
Particularly, we celebrate those who serve, as illustrated by Viva Colorado, an edition of the Denver Post: career soldiers, public servants, church leaders and people in service professions.
Chief among them are those who open doors for future generations. Jose D.L. (Lorenzo) Marquez, 69, was the first Hispanic appointed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, where he served for 20 years. His daughter, Monica Marquez, 42, is now the first Hispanic woman on the Colorado Supreme Court.
"He made it possible for me," she said.
Similarly, by going to college and putting her learning into practice, Irene Aguilar, 51, a physician, changed the lives of all the members of her family. "Pretty much all my nephews and nieces have gone to college, and I see that my family trajectory has changed."
But heritage is also about the spirit and life that throb in a culture. Rev. Msgr. Bernard A. Schmitz, 63, who served as a missionary in Colombia, speaks about what the simple people he served taught him: the importance of family, of generosity of spirit, of being patient and forgiving.
"They embraced me, they’ve cared for me. They’ve taught me how to be a priest," he told Viva Colorado.
Hispanic Heritage month invites all Catholics to recognize the leading role of Spaniards in evangelizing the United States. Their reach extended in a great arc from Florida, where missionaries first arrived in 1521, to Washington state, where, in 1774, two Franciscans celebrated Mass for the first time in Puget Sound.
All of this was done at tremendous cost in resources and martyrdom. Of the 142 names in the book of American martyrs compiled by the late Maryknoll Father Albert J. Nevins, the majority were Spaniards.
The first permanent European colony in what is now the United States took root in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565, a half-century before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Mass has been celebrated there continuously to the present day.
Yet, heritage is not only about the past, but it is also about celebrating the present. As time goes on, Hispanics become a larger proportion of Catholics in the nation and, if not already, will soon be the majority. As a group, they have been tenacious in retaining the faith of their fathers.
Everywhere one sees sagas like that of the Marcelino Ramos family in Los Angeles. In the 1960s, Ramos, a gardener, his wife and two children crossed the Mexican border in the trunk of a car. Today, one finds among his sons a sociologist, a priest, a physician, an architect, an economist and a policeman. The daughters include a policewoman, a teacher and a psychologist.
The trajectory of Hispanics as a group, like that of the Ramos, is ever upward. Without fanfare, they are integrating themselves into the fabric of the nation, making a contribution in all sectors of society: the church, politics, government, education and the professions.
It’s a good time to be Hispanic.
Sandoval is a columnist for Catholic News Service.