By ERIN ALLEN
The Library kicked off its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a keynote lecture on Sept. 17 by Cris Arcos, former U.S. ambassador to Honduras. This year’s theme is “Embracing the Fierce Urgency of Now!”
“When thinking about what I wanted to say, I grappled with the idea,” Arcos admitted. “My first awareness of being Hispanic was when I was in Portugal about 35 years ago.”
Arcos related his run-in with a group of anti-American students during the 1974 Portugal revolution. According to Arcos, they accused him and all Americans of having no culture.
“I felt challenged,” he said. “I told them, ‘Let me remind you that when my ancestors were sitting on the throne of the Aztecs, yours were eating roots on this peninsula.’”
“My point,” he continued, “was that I was struck. It was hard to think about my identity and how to manage it in this situation.”
In addition to pointing out the diversity of those called Hispanics, Arcos presented examples of contributions Hispanic Americans have made to American culture.
“I’ve been curious about the ‘Hispanicization’ of America,” he said. “I’ve said that the biggest contribution to America is we would not have had John Wayne—by that I mean cowboys. Our contributions begin with the settlements in San Jose. We were able to present a cultural tradition of the cattle industry. Words like rodeo, lasso, buckaroo are all steeped in the Hispanic language.”
Arcos enumerated other cultural contributions of Hispanics, such as foods, music and family structure.
However, Arcos believes that society needs to confront the challenges to Hispanics living in the in Americas. He’d like to see immigration reform, education that raises the bar of “human capital,” healthcare reform and understanding employers.
“One of the things I’ve learned in the foreign service is to understand where you work, how you relate and what the corporate culture is,” he said.
In closing, Arcos recounted an “endearing” meeting with a nun while he was in Honduras. He signed a grant for her organization to continue helping those in need.
“I asked her if she ever lost hope,” he said. “She told me ‘No, that would be the worst I could do because every human being has an island of health and my obligation is to help them grow it and survive.’ I never forgot that, and as an ambassador, I had a similar obligation.”
Erin Allen is a writer-editor in the Library’s Public Affairs Office.