Environmental Factor, November 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS celebrates Hispanic heritage
By Melissa Kerr
In celebration of Hispanic heritage month, the Hispanic Heritage Committee of the Diversity Council invited Ileana Herrell, Ph.D., to NIEHS Oct. 19, to discuss the history and contributions made by persons of Hispanic decent. Veronica Godfrey, (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/pob/staff/veronica.cfm) chair of the committee, and Chris Long (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/om/index.cfm), acting associate director for management at NIEHS, introduced the speaker. Herrell's talk was titled, "Heritage, Diversity, and Hope: The American Dream."
Celebration of Hispanic culture
Herrell said that people with familial roots, from the northern border of Mexico to the southern tip of western South America, come from a vast region full of culture. "Several processes were established in Hispanic culture well before they appeared in Europe," Herrell said. "Some examples include crop rotation and irrigation, a federal government and accounting system among the Incas, the Mayan calendar, and the Mayan zero system, to name a few."
Although Hispanic culture has played an important role in American culture, Herrell explained that a nationally-recognized time to honor Hispanic contributions didn't happen until 1968 when the U.S. Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, a proclamation (http://www.loc.gov/law/help/commemorative-observations/hispanic-heritage.php) designating the week that includes Sept. 15-16 as National Hispanic Heritage week. These two days are when several Latin American countries celebrated their independence, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico. President Ronald Reagan extended the recognition to cover a month's time in 1988, and today, Hispanic Heritage Month occurs Sept. 15-Oct. 15.
"Several persons of Hispanic decent have become military generals and admirals, scientists, astronauts, Nobel Prize winners, congressmen and congresswomen, senators, and political activists," Herrell added. "These people have made an indelible mark on United States history."
When asked why the committee chose Herrell to give the keynote address, Godfrey responded, "[Herrell] represents this community wonderfully. She brings a passion to her job and continues to push for better representation of Hispanic-Americans in the United States on every level."
Food and fun with a Latin flavor
Following the presentation, attendees continued the celebration in the NIEHS cafeteria. While the participants enjoyed flan, traditionally prepared pork, and a variety of finger foods, husband and wife pair, Barry and April Dalton, from Barry Dalton School of Dance in Jamestown, N.C., performed several traditional Latin dances. The Daltons were able to talk some of the NIEHS staff members into learning a few steps, as well.
(Melissa Kerr studies chemistry at North Carolina Central University. She is currently an intern in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)