Should We Celebrate Hispanic Heritage? But of course...
Check out my latest column on CNN where I explore the significance of our nation celebrating Hispanic American Heritage.
(CNN) -- From the White House to statehouses across America, from Main Street to Wall Street, there will be many commemorations marking Hispanic Heritage Month, which officially kicked off on September 15 -- but does all the hoopla matter?
Yes. All the proclamations, mariachi music and exultations, even the tacos served at these tributes are necessary -- especially if, beyond cocktails and soggy nachos, everyone takes the time to learn the stories and recognize everyday Hispanic American heroes who gave and continue to give of themselves to this nation.
The story of my father, a patriot and Korean War veteran, is worth highlighting, particularly during this month when the nation pauses to celebrate Hispanic contributions.
Two years ago he was buried, draped in his two beloved flags -- an American and a Puerto Rican flag. The fact that he went into the afterlife swathed in 51 stars and eighteen stripes spoke to the duality of my father's bicultural experience. This twin allegiance was neither exceptional nor paradoxical. Dad's double cultural devotion is at the heart of the Hispanic American experience.
When he was deployed at the age of 17, my father was a country boy from the southern coast of Puerto Rico who spoke only a few words of English. And yet he served this nation valiantly and was honorably discharged after three years of combat in Asia. Even though it was a source of immense pride (and pain, too, I'm sure), Dad rarely spoke about his time in Korea. And he didn't have to -- his body bore the evidence of the physical wounds endured, including a missing finger, blown off by a mortar attack. And while curious to hear war stories, we respected his wishes and never brought up the conflict. Implicitly, we understood to steer clear of that part of his life.
So upon his death at 76, we learned something astonishing about our dad. Though he was racially black and ethnically Puerto Rican, a Hispanic American who lived his adult life in New York City, Dad was officially listed in Army documents as white. While we were shocked at how a dark chocolate Latino would be mistaken for a Caucasian, historians looking into the exact numbers of Hispanic soldiers who served in wars aren't.