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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

The U.S. Congress has declared the period of September 15 through October 18 Hispanic Heritage Month. As a child growing up in Texas, I had limited world experiences. My family did very little traveling, and I grew up in a very homogeneous community. I was, however, aware that in Dallas in the 1950s there were three groups: the white majority, African-Americans who did service work in our communities, and somewhere in far north Dallas a growing group of Hispanics, primarily immigrants from Mexico. I was really unaware of cultures that were different from my “WASP” neighborhood.

When I was eleven, however, I had a wonderful experience. Our neighbors, who were like surrogate grandparents, invited me to go to Donna, Texas, over 500 miles from my home but only a few miles from the Mexican border. The brother of my Uncle Schmitty, as I called him, had a citrus farm in the Rio Grande Valley. I was thrilled with this opportunity. I was more thrilled when on Saturday during our visit they took me across the border to Reynosa, Mexico. I was intrigued by a very different culture, its sounds, smells and sights which were very unfamiliar to me. It reminded me of the movies I enjoyed on Saturdays featuring Zorro or The Cisco Kid and his compadre, Poncho. On Sunday, the Smiths took me to South Padre Island on the beautiful blue Gulf of Mexico stretching its water to the great Atlantic Ocean. We had beautiful white sand beaches to ourselves, very different from today where the beaches are filled with too many tourists. Also, one of the few times I ate “international food” as a child was on an occasional family outing to El Chico’s Mexican Restaurant. I became a lover of what is now called Tex-Mex, very different from the cuisine I had as an adult in Mexico City.

As I grew into an adult and expanded my knowledge of the world of art and music, I became familiar with contributions of Hispanics in the arts. In recent years, I have loved the music of pop artist Ricky Martin, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and of course Jenny from the block. I also admire and frequently listen to a great artist like Pablo Casals. In traveling to art museums in Europe, I know there are many wonderful Spanish artists including personal favorites: Picasso and Miro.

I was, however, unfamiliar with the great literature written in Spanish, until I read a sabbatical report from a language teacher at the County College of Morris. It is clear that he has a love and understanding of this vast collection of work. His sabbatical report inspired me to try to learn about the eleven Nobel laureates in literature whose works were first published in Spanish. In reading about the Nobel laureates, I found a phrase from the presentation speech at the Swedish Academy when the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature was given. Professor Kjellespmark said the following in his presentation, “When the Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded for the second time in succession to a writer from the Spanish-speaking world, it is a reminder of the exceptional literary vitality and richness of this sphere in our age.” These works are certainly worthy of inclusion in the Academy.

I invite you to continue and learn about those eleven writers who are Nobel laureates. I hope that you, like I, will be inspired to seek out this literature. Persons whose first language is Spanish are the fastest growing group in America. It will help all Americans have richer lives if we understand the sensitivities of new Americans whose first language is Spanish.

Nobel Laureates

José Echegaray
José Echegaray, Spain
Literature, 1901
Gabriela Mistral
Gabriela Mistral, Chile
Literature, 1945
Miguel Angel Asturias
Miguel Angel Asturias,
Literature, 1967
Jacinto Benavente y  Martinez
Jacinto Benavente y
Martinez, Spain
Literature, 1922
Juan Ramon Jimenez
Juan Ramon Jimenez,
Literature, 1956
Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda, Chile
Literature, 1971
Vicente Aleixandre
Vicente Aleixandre,
Literature, 1977
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
Literature, 1982
Camilo José Cela
Camilo José Cela,
Literature, 1989
Octavio Paz
Octavio Paz, Mexico
Literature, 1990
Mario Vargas Llosa
Mario Vargas Llosa,
Literature, 2010


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