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Friday, May 25, 2012

MEMORIAL DAY: REMEMBERING OUR PAST AND THOSE WHO SHAPED IT



MEMORIAL DAY:
REMEMBERING OUR PAST AND THOSE WHO SHAPED IT
From La Prensa de San Antonio, May 26, 2008
By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Scholar in Residence, Western New Mexico University; Professor Emeritus, Texas State University System—Sul Ross

Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring not only those who have fallen in battle in military service to the country but remembering all those who have lived before us and made our present possible. The event urged Longfellow in 1867 to write the poem “Decoration Day” which ends with the words: “Your silent tents of green / We deck with fragrant flowers / Yours has the suffering been / The memory shall be ours.”

No one is sure about who exactly initiated Memorial Day. Here’s one story. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania (off Route 322 in the foothills of the Alleghenies of Centre County), boasts the origin of Memorial Day. The story (apocryphal or true) is that on a pleasant Sunday morning in October of 1864, Emma Hunter and Sophie Keller were placing flowers on the grave of Emma’s father, Dr. Reuben Hunter, a surgeon in the Union Army, when they met Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer who was placing flowers on the grave of her son Amos, a private in the Union Army who was killed on the last day of the battle at Gettysburg. They decorated the graves of each other’s kin and gave birth to Memorial Day originally called Decoration Day.

Gaining adherents, on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30, 1868 as a day for decorating the graves of those who died in defense of their country. In 1882, the event was designated as Memorial Day and later broadened to include any American who had died in war or peace as soldiers or civilians, to which Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “One flag, one land, one heart, one hand, one nation evermore.” In May of 1966, President Lyndon Johnson recognized Waterloo, New York, as the “official” birthplace of Memorial Day.
(extracted from http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pacentre/memory.htm).

What does Memorial Day mean for American Hispanics? Memorial Day should give us pause to remember that American Hispanics have been part of the United States since its founding and that American Hispanics have fallen in every American war in defense of the nation [see Hispanics in America’s Defense, Department of Defense].

American Hispanics fought in World War I, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution, and countless other skirmishes including the present day conflagrations in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many historians point out that without Spain’s help the American colonists could not have won their independence. Hispanics have been America’s strongest supporters and allies.

More importantly, though, Memorial Day gives us a moment to remember our antepasados and their struggles for our well-being. We all stand on the shoulders of those who went before  us.  It
is therefore fitting to honor their memory and their place in our lives and in our history.

In 1776 Hispanics (Sephards) were part of the founding of the United States, having become part of the American population when the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (of which they were a part) became New York.  When the United States acquired the Louisiana territory and New Orleans, the Hispanic citizens of that purchase became Americans (having been French briefly when Napolean acquired the territory from Spain). And again when the United States acquired Florida in 1819, the Hispanic settlements of that region became Americans. Hispanics are not newcomers in the United States. They have been part of the American fabric since the beginning.

The largest number of Hispanics who became Americans by fiat were the Mexicans who were part of the Mexican Cession—that territory of Mexico annexed by the United States as a prize of the U.S.—Mexico War of 1846-1848. The territory dismembered from Mexico was larger than Spain, Italy, and France combined. In part, we are the progeny of that “conquest generation” that endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Like other “territorial Americans” (Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Pacific Islanders), the United States came to Puerto Ricans, they did not come to the United States. Territorial Americans are Americans by fiat—they came with the territories acquired by the United States by force of arms and conquest.

Despite the travails of life in their own lands as strangers, Hispanics have answered the nation’s call in times of peril. During World War II, they served in numbers greater than their percentage in the American population. More than 700,000 Hispanics were in uniform during World War II, most of them Mexican Americans. As a group they won more Medals of Honor than any other group.

This is the history we must remember and honor; and why we ought to decorate the graves of those who shaped our present. More importantly, however, we ought to extract from that me-mory, the most important lesson of history as George Santayana, the eminent American Hispanic philosopher, put it: those who cannot learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.

Por eso nos recordamos de nuestros valientes militares y  nuestros antepasados en este dia de la memoria—Memorial Day!

No one is sure about who exactly initiated Memorial Day. Here’s one story. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania (off Route 322 in the foothills of the Alleghenies of Centre County), boasts the origin of Memorial Day. The story (apocryphal or true) is that on a pleasant Sunday morning in October of 1864, Emma Hunter and Sophie Keller were placing flowers on the grave of Emma’s father, Dr. Reuben Hunter, a surgeon in the Union Army, when they met Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer who was placing flowers on the grave of her son Amos, a private in the Union Army who was killed on the last day of the battle at Gettysburg. They decorated the graves of each other’s kin and gave birth to Memorial Day originally called Decoration Day.

Gaining adherents, on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30, 1868 as a day for decorating the graves of those who died in defense of their country. In 1882, the event was designated as Memorial Day and later broadened to include any American who had died in war or peace as soldiers or civilians, to which Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “One flag, one land, one heart, one hand, one nation evermore.” In May of 1966, President Lyndon Johnson recognized Waterloo, New York, as the “official” birthplace of Memorial Day.
(extracted from http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pacentre/memory.htm).

What does Memorial Day mean for American Hispanics? Memorial Day should give us pause to remember that American Hispanics have been part of the United States since its founding and that American Hispanics have fallen in every American war in defense of the nation [see Hispanics in America’s Defense, Department of Defense].

American Hispanics fought in World War I, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the American Revolution, and countless other skirmishes including the present day conflagrations in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many historians point out that without Spain’s help the American colonists could not have won their independence. Hispanics have been America’s strongest supporters and allies.

More importantly, though, Memorial Day gives us a moment to remember our antepasados and their struggles for our well-being. We all stand on the shoulders of those who went before  us.  It
is therefore fitting to honor their memory and their place in our lives and in our history.

In 1776 Hispanics (Sephards) were part of the founding of the United States, having become part of the American population when the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (of which they were a part) became New York.  When the United States acquired the Louisiana territory and New Orleans, the Hispanic citizens of that purchase became Americans (having been French briefly when Napolean acquired the territory from Spain). And again when the United States acquired Florida in 1819, the Hispanic settlements of that region became Americans. Hispanics are not newcomers in the United States. They have been part of the American fabric since the beginning.

The largest number of Hispanics who became Americans by fiat were the Mexicans who were part of the Mexican Cession—that territory of Mexico annexed by the United States as a prize of the U.S.—Mexico War of 1846-1848. The territory dismembered from Mexico was larger than Spain, Italy, and France combined. In part, we are the progeny of that “conquest generation” that endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Like other “territorial Americans” (Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Pacific Islanders), the United States came to Puerto Ricans, they did not come to the United States. Territorial Americans are Americans by fiat—they came with the territories acquired by the United States by force of arms and conquest.

Despite the travails of life in their own lands as strangers, Hispanics have answered the nation’s call in times of peril. During World War II, they served in numbers greater than their percentage in the American population. More than 700,000 Hispanics were in uniform during World War II, most of them Mexican Americans. As a group they won more Medals of Honor than any other group.

This is the history we must remember and honor; and why we ought to decorate the graves of those who shaped our present. More importantly, however, we ought to extract from that memory, the most important lesson of history as George Santayana, the eminent American Hispanic philosopher, put it: those who cannot learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.

Por eso nos recordamos de nuestros valientes militares y  nuestros antepasados en este dia de la memoria—Memorial Day!

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