FORT POLK, La. — The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk presented a National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration Oct. 17 at Bayou Theater.

The event was hosted by the 115th Combat Support Hospital.

Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 and celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The narrator for the event, Sgt. 1st Class Susana O’Grady, 115th CSH, said Hispanics have had a profound and positive influence on the country through their strong commitment to family, faith, hard work and service. They have enhanced and shaped the national character with centuries old traditions that reflect the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural customs of their communities, she said. “That is why the focus of this year’s theme is ‘Hispanics: One Endless Voice To Enhance Our Traditions,’” said O’Grady.

The importance of the event, she said, is not only to recognize Hispanic cultures, but also give others an opportunity to learn a little bit about where they come from and why they are the way they are.

The guest speaker was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Janoi Cabrera, Joint Readiness Training Center Operations Group.

Cabrera grew up in Havana, Cuba. In 1991 he said he was ready to leave the country of his birth. His family was already in the United States, but he had to stay because of mandatory service requirements. He tried to escape on a raft, but was caught.

“It wasn’t a great idea. The Cuban Coast Guard found me and I was sentenced to eight years in prison. Three years for illegal immigration and five years for desertion,” he said.

Cabrera tried to leave again. He and some of his friends got in a raft and tried to make it to the United States.

“After 18 hours in the water, the eight of us were lucky enough to be picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard,” he said.

At the time, Cuban refugees were sent to Guantanamo Bay, which was U.S. territory, he said.

“I spent a little over a year there and then the United States gave me the opportunity to come to this great country. Not long after that I made the best decision of my life, I joined the United States Army. I don’t regret anything,” said Cabrera. “You only have one life and you can’t give up. You have to keep going. Believe me, it’s worth it.”

After sharing his hardships, Cabrera focused on his message.

“Today, we celebrate the remarkable achievements of people of Hispanic heritage. When we talk about Hispanic heritage, we are talking about vibrant diversity and cultural legacies from Spain to Mexico, Panama to Puerto Rico, Ecuador to Chile, Peru to the United States and more. These cultures share a language and have developed a remarkable blend of music, dance, art and, of course, food,” he said.

There is pride in what it means to be Latino, said Cabrera.

“In our multicultural society, diversity makes us stronger. Diversity within a society is like a symphony where every instrument contributes to a more beautiful concert or a painting where many splashes of color compliment each other and make beautiful art,” he said. “Hispanic people have a long, proud history that has significantly contributed to our society, helping us thrive as a strong and vibrant nation where we all have something to add. Therefore it is fitting that we take the time to recognize and appreciate the cultural vision of Hispanic people.”

Maj. Jeremy Teter, Joint Readiness Training Center Task Force 3, said he attended the celebration because he approves of the acceptance and support of the diversity found in the Army.

“The Army’s history shows that we have been at the forefront of positive change for a long time,” he said.

Presenting an event like this shows the best of what America can offer, said Teter. “We can do that by celebrating the accomplishments of those who came before us, whether they are Hispanic, Asian Pacific, Caucasian or African American,” he said.