AFRICOM holds its first Hispanic Heritage Month celebration

U.S. Africa Command held its first Hispanic American Heritage Month celebration last month at Kelley Barracks. More than 100 guests attended the event, which was themed “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories — One American Spirit,” and featured music, dancing, speeches and a food tasting.

Air Force Lt. Col. Susie Lewis, the AFRICOM Headquarters commandant, thanked everyone for attending and emphasized the importance of ethnic observances in bringing diverse groups together.

Yasmin Rosa, AFRICOM Equal Employment Opportunity Manager and  event coordinator, followed Lewis and introduced the dancing demonstrations. “There’s one thing that brings Hispanics together aside from language — we all love music,” she said. Alejandro and Andrea Holguin demonstrated traditional salsa, bachata and merengue dances.

Next, Navy Lt. Theresa Adair and Shariah Gibbs demonstrated Zumba, a popular exercise program that combines aerobics with traditional Hispanic dancing. The recent fitness craze was invented by Columbian aerobics instructor Alberto Perez when he forgot his aerobics music and substituted his personal tapes of salsa and meringue music for an improvised class.

Rhonda Diaz, acting J1/J8 Director of Resources for U.S. Africa Command and a member of the Senior Executive Service since June 2003, spoke about her family, which includes two Hispanic grandfathers: one who was Mexican and one who was half Puerto Rican and Italian.

She credited her father with instilling her with a solid work ethic. Diaz also spoke about having a child at an early age, earning a General Education Development certificate, and ultimately earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and reaching her goal of becoming an SES.

Diaz concluded her speech by urging the crowd to embrace diversity. “Having people with diverse experiences and ideas are useless if they aren’t used, so please embrace diversity,” Diaz said.

Deputy Director for J2 Operations and Plans Division, Army Col. Gloria Rincon, who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin before being commissioned through the Officer Candidate School program, spoke about her family, as well. She is a first generation American, and neither of her parents finished school, yet they instilled the importance of education in their daughter.

Rincon spoke about her experiences as a Hispanic woman serving in the Army’s intelligence community. “My career has been full of opportunities, adventure and making history. To me, being a service member is the highest calling and will always be the highlight of my life.”

Rincon went on to say that she never felt she had limitations. “I’ve grown up believing I can do anything and that the things that I can’t do are the exception.”

A food tasting that featured more than 20 different Hispanic dishes and beverages, all prepared by AFRICOM community members, capped off the event.

The celebration was produced as part of the Special Emphasis Program under the Equal Employment Opportunity program. SEP is designed to highlight the diversity of various ethnic groups represented throughout the workforce.