DoD's Hispanic Heritage Kickoff Highlights Women
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 1998 DoD kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 with ceremonies in the Pentagon highlighting this year's theme, "Hispanic Women in Leadership."
The observance, accented with lively Hispanic music and dancers, was hosted by Francis M. Rush Jr., principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, and William E. Leftwich III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for equal opportunity.
"It's our job during this month to raise awareness and remind fellow citizens of the many roles Hispanic women play in our society," said keynote speaker Maria C. Fernandez-Greczmiel, deputy assistant secretary of defense for inter-American affairs. "Progress will not be measured just in the jobs Hispanic women do, but in the full range of choices and opportunities we have before us in order to fulfill our potential."
Occasions such as Hispanic Heritage Month can be used "not only to celebrate women whose names and faces are known, but also those who are not known in our history books," said Fernandez- Greczmiel, who serves as the principal adviser to the secretary of defense regarding policy matters pertaining to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.
Recognition of Hispanic contributions to the nation shouldn't be limited to accomplishments by generals and politicians, she emphasized. It should include accomplishments "by our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and all of us who proudly comprise the Hispanic-American community," she said.
"I hope, as we celebrate this Hispanic Heritage Month, we're looking forward to a time when our society will not need to be reminded of the extensive and extraordinary accomplishments of Hispanics, especially Hispanic women," she said. She praised DoD's record of hiring Hispanic women, military and civilian employees, but said there is still work to do.
"We must do a better job of increasing the number of Hispanic American women in leadership roles in the Department of Defense," Fernandez-Greczmiel said. According to her statistics, DoD employs about 44,000 Hispanic civilian employees; some 15,800 are women, of which six are in the Senior Executive Service and 330 are in GS-13 to GS-15 positions.
She said about 13,000 of the 200,000 women on active military duty are Hispanic. Another 8,000 Hispanic women are members of the reserve components.
"Hispanic women are concentrated within the enlisted ranks and, therefore, serve as the backbone of our armed services," Fernandez-Greczmiel noted. "They also serve in the officers corps as doctors, nurses, lawyers and many other specialties."
The military takes pride in showing others that tenacity, determination and teamwork can overcome any obstacle, no matter how difficult, she said. "As a result," she said, "women in the military have the ability to not only defend our country, but also to blaze a new path for women in the rest of our society.
"That's because Hispanic women -- all women -- in the armed services don't seek special status or treatment," she said. "Rather, they seek equal and fair treatment. The military has historically served as a proving ground for women -- for women who don't believe in life's barriers."
Fernandez-Greczmiel said she hopes the day will come in her lifetime when stories of Hispanic Americans' accomplishments and heroism are passed from teacher to student and parent to child with no one saying, "Gee, how unusual."
"These success stories should be accepted as the rule and not as exceptions, as routine and not unusual," she said. And the day also will come, she added, when women are recognized as individuals, not stereotyped or expected to assume certain "traditional roles for women."
The official DoD ceremony in the Pentagon was interspersed with Spanish folk songs, followed by El Tayrona, a Colombian folklore and musical group. Decked out in colorful cultural costumes, the group entertained the audience with dances expressing the customs of the Colombian people who are a mixture of Spanish, native Indians and African slaves, said Noemi Rosado-Roman.
"El Tayrona tries to promote a better understanding of Colombia through a display of a mixture of dances, costumes and music representing the different regions," said Rosado-Roman, Hispanic employment program manager for DoD's Washington Headquarters Services. "Hispanics are so diverse within our culture that we try to show a different group each year."