National Hispanic Heritage Month: More than a celebration – It’s our history

Sunday, Sept. 15 marked the start to a festive celebration of the uniquely blended Hispanic culture. Art, literature, music, and dance are among the many modes of memorializing a rich and varied history, one that has helped shape North America over the last 500-plus years. There are more than 50 million Hispanic Americans, making them the largest minority group in the U.S.

Honoring their contributions and achievements, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a proclamation designating a week in September as National Hispanic Heritage Week.  Several years later in 1988, Congress expanded the celebration to a 31-day period beginning Sept. 15 calling “on the people of the United States, especially the educational community, to observe National Hispanic Heritage Month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”


Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with the celebrations of Independence Day in many Latin American countries—including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (Sept. 15), Mexico (Sept. 16), and Chile (Sept. 18)—as well as with Columbus Day (originally Oct. 12 in the United States but now commemorated on the second Monday in October).

Accepting the call, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Extension Educators around the state are bridging gaps and celebrating blended cultures with educational programs that make a difference. Roanoke Valley Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, Deborah Chappell, has partnered with Avancemos Roanoke over the last several years, an organization to help bridge the gap for Latino populations in the Roanoke Valley, to provide educational opportunities for the local Hispanic residents.

As many Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of healthy living, there has been an appeal from the community to learn more about USDA Nutritional Guidelines. In fact, local residents are doing more than learning how to eat healthier – they are learning to produce foods locally.

“Building Community and Health through Gardening” 2010. While a vast concept, this is a signature program implemented in Roanoke. The four-part gardening program was shaped by the collaboration between Virginia Cooperation Extension – Roanoke Office, Refugee and Immigration Services, and a host of community partners. Purposed to connect reliable resources with Latino audiences while celebrating their rich contributions to living well, participants gravitated toward the opportunity to learn more about modifying recipes for healthier benefits and try their thumb at growing healthy and delicious fruits and vegetables.

Families eagerly participated in several workshops that included practical experiences such as planting day, a hands-on day full of fun. Families received containers, soil mix, seeds, plants, and an instructional workshop on successfully growing and maintaining a garden. In the fall, the extended Latino community got together for a Harvest Fiesta, including food, kid’s games, a game of soccer with the local community police officers, and a neighborhood clean-up with the Boy/Girl Scout troop. A renewed sense of community made this fiesta one to remember!

In 2011, Family Consumer Science and the Family Nutrition Program provided Cooking Matters for Families, a program that provides a strong foundation in nutrition, cooking, and household budgeting through specialized courses for adults, kids, and teens. This six week program was the educational foundation for providing a practical application on preparing harvested goodies for maximum nutritional value. Participants prepared meals and shared stories over community lunches. Extension continues to offer classes and one–on-one nutrition instruction to the Latino Community.

Deborah’s work as a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with this community initiative laid the groundwork for nutrition and health programs, 4-H Youth Development programs, recycling, and a new garden site in conjunction with the Roanoke Community Gardening Association. Best of all, it resulted in creating an atmosphere for personal and professional growth and lasting knowledge on building health through gardening to be shared for generations to come.

Celebremos el mes de la Hispanidad!

Let’s celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month!

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