National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the cultural contributions of the Latino community to the larger fabric of Americana. This celebration began as a week by presidential decree in 1968 under the Johnson Administration and became a month of celebration in 1988. Nationally, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in September, but at Bloomfield College it kicks off a month later when the campus is full. The month of celebration is open to all of the campus community to experience the facets of the culture. The opening ceremony featured brief history of Hispanic Heritage month by sophomore Vanessa Garcia, a welcome by President Levao, a musical performance of En mi Viejo San Juan by Health Services Director Bob Martinez, and a step dance performance by the Lambda Sigma Upsilon step team.
The keynote speaker was Carlos Valentin, the executive director of Aspira Inc. of New Jersey. Mr. Valentin spoke candidly to the assembled audience about his difficult childhood, growing up in a home with a drug-addicted mother and no father. He took his younger brother and sister under his wing at a very young age and guided their growing up. He remained involved in his school and his community and began to take on leadership roles. He encourages young people to finish school and give back to their communities. In his words, “I am not special; I just worked hard and persevered.” He has a long history of working in community development programs, many of which focus on education and children. He has organized voter-registration drives for the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, welfare to work programs, employment placement and bi-lingual education. He served on the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board for three years where he was on the schools safety committee and the facilities committee which realized the creation of the renovated Schools Stadium. As the executive director of Aspira, he oversees the programs that he participated in as a young person. Mr. Valentin developed programs for juveniles with the juvenile justice commission and collaborated with YouthBuild to provide services for at-risk youth in South Jersey and the children’s Aid Society of New York to create a successful teen pregnancy prevention program to youth in Newark.
The celebration closed with Nereida Montijo, coordinator of service learning and diversity initiatives, noting that Hispanic heritage encompasses many different cultures and colors. “We need to know and understand our history, our roots, from Indian to African, from South America to Europe. We are of many backgrounds and are proud to be Hispanic!”
Some of the activities for the remainder of the month of celebration are:
11/8, 6 p.m. – Traditional dance exhibition: Deacon’s Den
11/15, 2 p.m. – Closing Ceremony with Spanish dance performances and Spanish dinner: Deacon’s Den
Attendance at all Hispanic Heritage Month activities is eligible for T.R.U.E. points.