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    Hispanic Heritage Month honors Hispanic Americans’ contributions to the shaping of the nation

    Hispanic Heritage Month honors Hispanic Americans’ contributions to the shaping of the nation

    Photo By Capt. Olivia Cobiskey | Col. Michael S. Oshiki, commander of William Beaumont Army Medical Center, and Command...... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Olivia Cobiskey 

    William Beaumont Army Medical Center

    FORT BLISS, Texas – In celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, William Beaumont Army Medical Center honored America’s Hispanic roots, while also asking participants to look past the limited definition of race and embrace the broader definition of ethnicity.

    “The United States census started in 1790 when it became a federal law for the U.S. government to start counting people of all races and that’s not a bad thing, right? We want to know how diverse our country is. However, they started their categories as ‘free white’ and the other category was ‘slaves.’ Those were the categories,” Amabilia Payen told the WBAMC family gathered in the Clinic Assembly Room on Fort Bliss to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, September 12, 2019. “But now we have six. Hispanic; however, I realized, is not a race and I thought how is that? How is my Hispanic heritage not a race?”

    Payen, a retired U.S. Army Officer, continued, adding that since the current census limits individuals the ability to identify as either white, black, Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, or other, it led her to ask the age-old philosophical question ‘Who am I?’ Using her results from a DNA test and her family’s history along the borderlands of Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas she asked participants to step out of the box of race and embrace their own diverse ancestry, heritage, and ethnicity.

    “Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on our country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work, and service,” said Payen, who received her commission from the New Mexico Military Institute in 2000. “They have enhanced and shaped our national character with centuries-old traditions that reflect the multiethnic and multicultural customs of their community.”

    Reflecting on that multi-ethnic and -cultural community, Payen points out she is 45 percent Native American, 22 percent Spanish, 14 percent Portuguese, 6 percent each French and Italian, 4 percent African, and 1 percent European Jewish and Middle East.

    “Am I European or am I Native American?” Payen asked, joking with the crowd.

    “It turns out actually that most Hispanics [results] will look like that,” she said pointing at a slide with her genetic breakdown. “About 40 percent, give or take – Native American and then the other 20 or 30 percent are going to be black, or somewhere from Spain or France. So, I’m saving you a lot of money (on a DNA test).”

    Payen’s ancestors are counted among the founders essential to the success of towns along the borderlands during the early history of the Southwest. The boarder between Mexico and the U.S. was more porous in the early 1900 and her family would cross the border to work during harvest seasons in Texas.

    “My great-grandmother, Jacinta Garcia, helped her Dad, who was wheelchair bound, he was a lawyer to Pancho Villa’s victims. He would say, ‘Pancho, don’t kill him, he didn’t do anything bad’ and he would fight for the victims that Pancho Villa was really angry with and wanted to kill. So, he saved a lot of lives,” Payen said of her grandfather’s family. “They called him ‘El Rojo’ because he had red hair and freckles. I asked ‘Was he like Irish or something?’ And (my family) said we don’t know, we just know he was ‘El Rojo.’ So, you can hear Pancho Villa saying ‘Here comes the Red Man’ in Spanish.”

    Payen told the audience about her grandmother’s family – descended from Jose Acosta, one of the first settlers in Fort Stockton, Texas and whose home is now a museum.

    “How many of you know any Acostas in here? How many of you know any Garcias in here?” Payen asked, as hands shot into the air. “So, see my heritage comes from so much common ground in what Hispania is … my great, great grandpa, Jose’ Acosta, he was one of the first settlers in Fort Stockton, Texas.”

    However, Payen said she was disappointed that the museum’s website only mentioned the Caucasian landowner that her grandfather worked for in Texas, not her family’s contribution in supplying the expansion and settlement of the southwest.

    “But, I want you to know when you go out there, this is where he lived,” she said pointing to a photo in the presentation. “He fathered children there, my grandma’s dad, Lucas was born there.”

    "All Americans should celebrate their ethnicity and heritage, not their race," said Payen. "It's your ethnicity and your heritage that really we should be focused on in the U.S. census, to accurately reflect how much diversity we have in America."

    Sgt. Andrew Orozco, equal opportunity leader at McAfee Army Health Clinic at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico and sponsor of the event, said he not only learned a lot about his own Hispanic heritage from Payen’s presentation, but gained a new respect for how Hispanics helped lay the foundation of the culture and success of the southwest today.

    “Equal Opportunity Special Observances sheds light on our heritage, on the heritage of the people around us, our Soldiers,” said Orozco, who’s family immigrated from Mexico. “It’s exactly what Ms. Payen said, embracing our ethnicity, learning not to be ashamed of it, makes us better leaders.”
    Col. Michael S. Oshiki, commander of WBAMC, said we cannot undervalue or forget the contribution made by Hispanic Americans.

    “Hispanic Americans are an integral part of not just the fabric of our country, but the fabric of our military, 15 percent of Soldiers in the United States Army are Hispanic Americans,” Oshiki said.

    Hispanic Americans are the single largest identified ethnic group in the U.S. military and have had a long history of selfless service, Oshiki continued, sharing ‘one of the most incredibly motivating stories of somebody’s selfless service,” telling the participants of another Texas born hero Master Sgt. Raul Perez "Roy" Benavidez, a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces, who received the Medal of Honor for his valorous actions in combat near Lộc Ninh, South Vietnam on May 2, 1968.

    “We have to remember it, not just in this month, but every day,” Oshiki said. “I think it’s significant that Hispanic Heritage Month is the only special observance that crosses two months – it goes from September into October – that is a conscience decision, done for a reason.”



    Date Taken: 09.12.2019
    Date Posted: 09.30.2019 14:10
    Story ID: 344600
    Location: EL PASO, TX, US 

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