By ERIN ALLEN
The Library of Congress kicked off its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, with a keynote lecture on Sept. 20 by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. This year's national theme is "Hispanic Americans: Our Rich Culture Contributing to America's Future."
Peppering his remarks with anecdotes about his upbringing, Gonzales discussed the core values that the Hispanic-American culture holds dear: sacrifice, hard work, trust, personal initiative and perseverance in the face of adversity. "The values of America's Hispanic community are the same values that sustain our nation's greatness," he said.
Growing up in southern Texas, Gonzales said these principles were apparent in his everyday life. "My father, Pablo, was not an educated man. But he worked hard, every day, to give his eight children the American dream," Gonzales said proudly as he remembered how his father, a migrant worker, built his family's home with his bare hands.
"I still remember when I was a small boy playing in the field as they laid the cinder blocks for the foundation," he recalled. "Then they nailed together the two-by-fours, put up the Sheetrock that would form the walls and skillfully hammered the composition shingles onto the roof. From that sweat and toil and vision arose the small two-bedroom house that became our family home—and my mother still lives there, proudly, today."
For Gonzales, that home captured the spirit not only of Hispanic American heritage but also of the nation's heritage—to dream and work for a better tomorrow, to build on the foundation of this country's freedom.
A few years ago, Gonzales' mother came to Washington, D.C., for the first time to visit him and his family. They visited the usual tourist stops—the monuments, the National Mall and its museums—but made a special detour to the Oval Office for a visit with the President of the United States.
"It was important for me to be able to do that for her, this little woman who once picked cotton," he said. "I wanted to thank her for her guidance and to show her what I had accomplished because of her sacrifices and those of my father.
"I don't think she ever dreamed that her son would one day take her, on his arm, to the Oval Office," Gonzales continued. "But she and my father did know that the proud heritage they passed on to their children—and that I pass to my sons—a heritage of hard work and sacrifice, faith and family, hope and perseverance, could open untold doors in this land of opportunity."
These doors were opened to many noteworthy Hispanic Americans, such as Rita Hayworth, Celia Cruz, David Farragut, Dennis Chavez and Rita Moreno, who was awarded a Living Legend Award by the Library in 2000. A special display in the foyer of the Library's Madison Building highlights their contributions, as well as those of others of Hispanic American heritage.
Also included in the display is Walt Disney—who, according to research done by Juan Perez of the Library's Hispanic Division, was actually born Jose Luis Girao in Spain and later adopted by Elias and Flora Disney. It is interesting to note that Walt Disney's official biography does not mention his Hispanic heritage, and instead says that he was born to the Disneys in Chicago.
"National Hispanic Heritage Month provides the American people, and particularly Hispanic children, with the opportunity to see as well as hear that no matter their background or heritage, the possibilities for the future are limitless," concluded Gonzales. "As Americans, we are a people dedicated to justice, opportunity and equality. As Hispanics, we cherish the heritage of hard work, perseverance, faith and family. With our heritage rooted deeply in these values and our hope in the future of America, we will continue to strive towards excellence in all that we do, leaving a strong legacy for our children and future generations."
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library's Public Affairs Office.