What Hispanic heritage means to me

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What makes our country unique is that our shared identity isn’t based on ethnicity or a common genealogy. It’s not based on thousands of years of collective history or even on our geography. It’s based on a set of principles— ideas that Americans share which shape our focus as a people. One of those is the idea that this is a country where anybody can be anything. A country where families can find safety from persecution and a clear path to success. A country where we are not divided by our race but instead see our diversity as a strength.

That’s what Hispanic Heritage Month is all about.

This month, from September 15th until October 15th, is about recognizing one aspect of our identity as a nation. It’s about recognizing a group of Americans who have contributed in countless ways to our shared culture and identity. The Latino community is a unique portion of our population but has led on so many important issues.

Whether it was the fight for immigrants’ rights, or taking a leading role in the labor movement, Latinos have a record of fighting for a better future for all Americans. From Caesar Chavez, whose iconic activism led to a revolution in the rights of farm workers, to Sonia Sotomayor, who after a life of public service became the first Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic descent, we have heroes in the Latino Community who our kids will read about in their history books, but we also have no shortage of everyday heroes like Alonso Guillen, a 31-year-old DACA recipient from Lufkin, Texas.

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Alonso was born in Mexico, but when Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area last year, he drove over 100 miles to help with the rescue efforts. Alonso, a Latino and an immigrant, dropped everything to help his fellow Americans because he knew that it was not the color of our skin or the origin of our last names that defines this country, but the collective effort to do what’s right. Alonso was in a boat in a flooded neighborhood near Houston pulling stranded victims from the water when he was taken by the current. He didn’t make it, but he gave his life so that others could live.

Alonso is a hero, and just one example of why we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It is not just to reflect on the past and the contributions of those who came before us, but to acknowledge the contributions the Hispanic community makes every day. As Latinos, we have a chance in this country to be heroes. Just like Caesar Chavez and Justice Sotomayor. And like Alonso Guillen and the countless everyday heroes from the Latino community.

Latinos have a history of being dedicated to serving causes larger than themselves, and in many cases, are willing to make tremendous sacrifices in the name of what’s right. I’m proud to be Latino, and I’m proud to be Mexican-American. I’m proud of our history, but even more than that, I’m proud of the future our community has built for ourselves and will continue to build.

By Rep. Pete Aguilar

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