CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Each year, Americans celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The month-long celebration is observed to honor the history, culture, and impact of Hispanic Americans in the United States.
Introduced as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, the period was expanded to Hispanic Heritage Month by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to include the independence holidays of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Chile, and Nicaragua.
The Marine Corps takes pride in celebrating alongside all Hispanic Marines within its ranks and recognizes their legacy in the organization.
The official wartime numbers of Hispanic Marines is not known. However, they have distinguished themselves in combat since the Boxer Rebellion, when Private France Silva became the first Hispanic-American Marine to receive the Medal of Honor.
Cpl. Jeremy Alvarado, a military working dog trainer and handler with the Provost Marshal’s Office, Security and Emergency Services Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, believes that honoring Hispanic heritage is important in broadening our understanding of each other and important to the diversity within Hispanic culture itself.
Alvarado, a native of Yauco, Puerto Rico, attributes the importance of hard work to getting him where he is today.
“Our Island, going back in history, was a slave port… it was always instilled that work gets you through life. We were taught from a young age to work and value work to get through life. That was something that helped me in the Marine Corps,” said Alvarado.
Alvarado joined the Marine Corps to set himself apart from those around him. Facing adversity at home solidified his decision to enlist.
As he was transitioning into the Marine Corps, family financial struggles, ill family members, and a hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that he says, “made every single matter worse for us,” became burdens on his whole family. “Just being in the Marine Corps gave me enough bearing and tact to use my foundation that I've built here to be able to help my family through that.”
According to Alvarado, there is a lot of knowledge about Hispanic culture that Marines could be educated on. He points out the diversity within Hispanic cultures in themselves.
“From every corner of Puerto Rico, everyone is different. Every single Hispanic out there is different,” Alvarado said. “Every country has their different way of life, tradition, that just kind of joins together with that one word and we can all get along with it.”
Sgt. Roxanne Gorostieta, the administrative chief with the Command Element, I Marine Expeditionary Force, spent her early years in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, later coming to Phoenix, Arizona. She explains the difficulties she experienced from learning something other than her native language.
“Everybody would look at me different and I was put in the English language learners classes. They wanted me to stop speaking Spanish and I was like, but that's my family. That's who I am.”
Gorostieta attributes her strong work ethic to her mother, who came to the United States with the clothes on her back and her four children to give them a better future. Staying mindful of the sacrifices her mother made for her is something Gorostieta says makes her a better Marine.
“I owe my entire work ethic to my mother,” she said. “We did everything ourselves. She was the head of the household. Now, I just strive to be the same way. I need to work harder. She'll wake up early in the morning and make sure everything's prepped. The way that she works is admirable.”
Currently, Gorostieta is also a Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor, allowing her to help Marines advance in their careers. She is constantly setting goals for herself and becoming a better Marine.
Reflecting on the city where she was born, Gorostieta says, “It taught me humility — there are dirt roads still there. There are people that have no air conditioning in their house. The showers are like holes in the wall.”
Having been stationed on the East Coast prior, she remarks on how being stationed on Camp Pendleton has allowed her to be more in touch now with things that remind her of home.
“I didn't feel like I was home or even close to home there. I'm still far from home, but I go out and town and there's people selling flowers on the street and I am not that far from LA. There's a lot of Hispanic places to eat around here.”
Gorostieta is not the only one whose mother has inspired them. Gunnery Sgt. Milton Espinoza’s mother has been an example for him since she left Tegucigalpa, Honduras to work in the United States and get a head start making a future for her children.
Espinoza is the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Installation Personnel Administration Center, Outbound (Separations), and joined the Marine Corps to pay for his education and travel the world. Since being in, he has received his associate degree and is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He elaborates on the importance of his mother’s choices in getting him where he is today.
“She came to the states by herself. I was only two or three years old, and she left me with my aunt. I know it was hard for her to make that decision, but she did it for me and my brother and she was able, years later, to bring us to the states. That was adversity for her.”
Espinoza stayed in Honduras until his teenage years, when he came to Miami, Florida to finish high school in a completely new country. From there, he joined the Marine Corps and used all the English he had learned in those few years to get through recruit training.
Espinoza explains that honoring Hispanic heritage brings cultural awareness. He notes that the Marine Corps is composed of a large variety of heritages and being recognized for yours is something to be proud of.
“Being Hispanic includes more than just one country. There is a diversity. Also, I can say that we are hard workers and we are very proud of who we are and where we come from. Give us the opportunity to show you our world and you will enjoy it. I guarantee it.”