Cheers and applause rang out in the Napa County Board of Supervisors meeting room Tuesday morning after a jubilant Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht — the grandson of a German immigrant — finished reading a proclamation declaring Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 in Napa County (see accompanying pdf).
The supervisors join the Napa Valley Unified School District Board of Education in endorsing the first-ever cultural heritage awareness month dedicated to Latinos.
Democratic state legislators and U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) have also officially recognized the county's Latino Heritage Month and the organizations behind it, , and the Latino Heritage Committee.
A representative from the Mexican consulate in San Francisco thanked the supervisors for their proclamation and reminded listeners of the upcoming Mexican Independence Day celebration in downtown Napa.
Latino Heritage Committee co-chair Francis Ortiz-Chavez, a school board member and center director for Puertas Abiertas, began her remarks with a reflection on the Sept. 11 attacks of 11 years earlier:
"We, the people of color, especially those of us born outside the United States, regardless of our immigration status, knew shortly after 9/11, 2001 that we could never again take living in the United States for granted," she said.
"We knew that we would carry the weight of 9/11 on our shoulders for generations to come."
After 9/11, Ortiz-Chavez continued, "we had to work side by side and at times hand in hand, crossing over ethnic lines to make our community safe, but one that truly respects its residents for who they are and what they contribute and not by the color of their skin or the color of their ID."
To non-Latinos, Ortiz-Chavez extended an invitation:
"Consider joining a celebration or two during the Latino Heritage Month," she said.
"I can garantee you will be welcomed with open arms in the Latino spirit of mi casa es su casa."
Committee member Jaime Peñaherrera, director of Diversity and Community partnerships at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, also spoke, reminding the audience that "diversity is not enough.
"We also need inclusion. All of our voices need to be heard, and we also need to be at the table making decisions together side by side," said Peñaherrera, a native of Ecuador.
The multinational audience, many members of whom came to the speakers' podium with small flags to identify their nation of origin, also included Napa County residents representing Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Chile, Bolivia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and Uruguay as well as California and the United States.
"This is a memory that I will always carry in my heart," Ortiz-Chavez said.
The proclamation event was so successful the county may need to seek a larger meeting room for it in 2013, said Keith Caldwell, chairman of the board of supervisors, before moving to the next agenda item.
To find out more about Latino Heritage Month events, see somosnapa.org and follow Napa Patch.
Napa Patch becomes Napa Valley Patch Sept. 27! Follow us on Twitter | Like us on Facebook | Sign up for the daily email with links to the latest news | Got something to say? Start a blog and share your views with the valley.