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Nava: Much to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month

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A signature event in Roswell for Hispanic Heritage Month will be absent due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a local leader says there is still much to celebrate.

National Hispanic Heritage Month started Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. The start marks the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively.

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation establishing Hispanic Heritage Week. Twenty years later, a month-long commemoration was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

For about three decades, the Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce has conducted the Piñata Festival to celebrate local Hispanic heritage. This year’s event has been canceled due to the health orders regarding the coronavirus pandemic, but Hispano Chamber Executive Director Marcos Nava said it will be back in 2021.

Last year, the Hispano Chamber joined with MainStreet Roswell to present the Piñata Festival in conjunction with the Chile Cheese Festival at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair grounds, and doing so was a success, Nava said. Prior to last year, each had been held separately with vendors, music and food.

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The Hispano Chamber had hoped for an even larger festival this year, Nava said.

“This year we were hoping to take the learning of the piñata into the schools and provide an opportunity for every student to have a contest, bring it the festival, show off the piñatas and then give a prize, but not this year,” he said.

“When this pandemic is over we’ll do it next year,” he said.

Nava said Hispanic Heritage Month is a good time to learn about the contributions Hispanics have made to the United States.

“We have people in the music industry, we have artists, we have authors that have done well in this country that have excelled in those fields,” he said.

Nava is also getting to know the local Hispanic community since taking over as executive director of the Hispano Chamber in March 2019. Although he has lived in Roswell for 13 years, Nava said he considers himself new to the community because he had a job in Dallas for 11 of those years and was here only on weekends.

“The family was content and happy being here, the kids were doing well in school, so we decided to stay here,” he said.

Nava said he is also learning from his volunteer position as director of Roswell’s 2020 Complete Count Committee encouraging completion of the U.S. Census.

Each Saturday since the July 11 start of the Farmers’ Market on the Chaves County Courthouse lawn, Nava has manned a census booth to offer people help filling out the survey.

“I’m there talking to people, encouraging them to do the census. A lot of the Spanish-speaking community come talk to me,” he said.

Many tell him how they are the fifth or sixth generation of their families to live in Roswell or New Mexico.

Through the Hispano Chamber, Nava said he has gotten to know the business community and is impressed with the Hispanic-owned businesses both large and small.

“There are a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of small businesses owned by Hispanics, husband and wife, a family. We have a couple of businesses that are big business that are doing well,” he said.

“I think the thing I am most pleased to find out is the abundance of entrepreneurship we have in the Hispanic community. They’re self-reliant, they want to make it on their own and they bring their knowledge from back in their country,” he said.

According to U.S. Census estimates from 2019, 57.5% of Roswell’s population is Hispanic.

Gov. Michell Lujan Grisham issued a statement Sept. 15 on the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month in New Mexico.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate our faith, our history and our progress toward a more inclusive and equitable world. New Mexico is a proudly multicultural state, and our Hispanic heritage is woven into so much of who we are — our rich acequia and land grant communities, our contributions to literature and the arts, our leadership in business and commerce and civics. New Mexico’s Hispanic heritage has helped to define the American experience.

“Our diversity is a source of strength and can be a wellspring of unity. This month, it is also, in particular, a point of pride, and I join all New Mexicans in celebrating our Hispanic roots and our relentless commitment to building a future with equality of opportunity for all.”

In issuing the proclamation for National Hispanic Heritage Month, President Donald Trump said in a Sept. 14 White House statement, “Hispanic Americans are the largest minority group in the United States today, and generations of Hispanic Americans have consistently helped make our country strong and prosperous. They contribute to our nation beyond description. Hispanic Americans embody the best of our American values, including commitment to faith, family and country. They serve in our military and protect us as members of law enforcement. In fact, Hispanic Americans make up half of our Border Patrol agents. The Hispanic-American community has left an indelible mark on our government, culture, and economy.”

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.