Hurd on the Hill: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

September 26, 2016
Hurd on the Hill: Local Columns

The last Hurd on the Hill column was dedicated to the sacrifices our Hispanic-American service members have made and continue to make for our country. I am thrilled to announce that the Senate approved a bill last week that I introduced to re-name the Tornillo Port Of Entry in honor of a Veteran highlighted in the last column, Private Marcelino Serna. 

But it would be a disservice not to mention some of the impacts made by Hispanics with ties to the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in other fields such as education, art, and technology. In the spirit of Hispanic History Month, I’d like to honor some of those folks, many of whom are in the process of making history today.

Danny Olivas is an astronaut who grew up in El Paso and received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) before joining NASA. He went on two space missions, the STS-117 and STS-128, where he performed two spacewalks and served as a mission specialist. After retiring as an astronaut, Danny returned home to become Director of the Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research at his alma mater UTEP to inspire local students to pursue careers in space. Danny is a testament to the community of El Paso and a true champion of STEM education.

Dr. Abelardo "Abe" Baeza of Alpine was the first Hispanic Ph.D. to teach at Sul Ross State University where he received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees and taught for 34 years. He was known as an energetic professor who brought excitement to the classroom and brought the best out of the students that he taught in both Spanish and English. He received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Teaching Award and distinguished Sul Ross Alumni award. His legacy is revered in the Alpine community.

Brothers Flaco and Santiago Jiménez from San Antonio have both been pioneers in American music history. Santiago Jr.’s singing and accordion-playing have made significant contributions to the conjunto instrumental style, the accordion-based social music of South Texas and Mexico. He has captivated audiences around the world with his two-button accordion and was recently awarded the 2015 National Medal of Arts. His brother Flaco has excelled in the Tejano music style and has won multiple Grammy awards, Tejano Music Awards, and most recently, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, for his incredible accordion playing. Both brothers are national music icons.

No Hispanic Heritage list would be complete without the presence of the late pop icon Selena Quintanilla, affectionately nicknamed the “Queen of Tejano.” Although Selena was originally from Lake Jackson, she has a tremendous and dedicated following in San Antonio, still twenty-one years after her untimely death.  Selena began traveling through South Texas and performing for audiences with her family’s band at age 10 and went on to win two Tejano Music Awards, multiple Grammy awards, and achieve gold record status for hits in both English and Spanish. There are murals painted of Selena throughout Texas and she is credited with being the first artist ever to bring Latino music to mainstream American audiences. She influenced an entire generation of Hispanic-Americans, and as George W. Bush once said, Selena “represented the essence of south Texas culture” and she “never forgot where she came from.”

Throughout the nation, the contributions of Hispanic-Americans can be clearly seen and heard, and I’m proud to represent a district that is home to so many individuals making history. It’s good that our country sets aside this month to acknowledge and honor these contributions, but in Texas 23, it’s something we celebrate all year long.