Columbus Day, which was observed Monday, serves as a reminder that the United States finds itself at a time when the heritage of several different cultures are being celebrated.
While the observance is considered controversial by some, Columbus Day remains a significant reminder that even if Christopher Columbus really didnít ďdiscoverĒ the Americas, his travels did open the Western Hemisphere to European exploration - and exploitation.
The holiday has become a time of cultural celebration for Americans of Italian descent. And because Columbus sailed under commission of the Spanish monarchy, Hispanics in several Latin American countries as well as Spain mark the day with celebrations.
Meanwhile, National Hispanic Heritage Month is marked annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and itís a time when the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South Americans are noted. It started as a week in September as declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, and President Ronald Reagan expanded the observance to a month in 1988.
The purpose of the celebration is not unlike that of Black History Month each February.
In addition, Monday, Oct. 6, was German-American Day in the United States - another significant observance declared by presidential proclamation. Like immigrants from many other nations, people of German ancestry have made important contributions to our society.
The tone and enthusiasm of such cultural celebrations in communities are dictated by the number of residents there who embrace their ancestorsí backgrounds. And then, local volunteers must be willing to do the different work of planning and organizing public celebrations.
But even if every community is not able to hold a fiesta, an Octoberfest or a Columbus Day parade, itís important for every American to understand the contributions that people of so many different heritages have made through the years to the great melting pot we know as the United States of America.