National Defence to mark Latin American Heritage Month

Article / June 26, 2019 / Project number: 19-0145

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — The Department of National Defence (DND) has added Latin Americans to the list of cultural groups it formally recognizes each year.

That is, in part, thanks to the work of several Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel of Latin ancestry who have drafted a proposal for official recognition. They have been organizing a number of culturally-themed events in and around the Ottawa area in their spare time for more than five years.

Captain Rey Garcia-Salas, who currently serves with the Canadian Army as Adjutant of Ottawa-based 33 Signal Regiment, is one of seven members of the DND/CAF Latin-American Heritage executive group. He said the federal Latin American Heritage Month Act, which received Royal Assent last year, helped pave the way.

October is now Latin American Heritage month

The Department will now mark the occasion each October and Capt Garcia-Salas said the main focus for the inaugural event is a “heritage exhibition” that will highlight the many contributions of CAF members – military and civilian – of Latin American ancestry.

“We’ve been working since 2010 without any official support,” he said. “We and many other Latin American organizations have been doing a lot of activities in Canada and now the government is recognizing people with Latin American roots for their contributions.”

Capt Garcia-Salas and Captain Milton Hoyos, another long-time member of the executive group, started small with an inaugural, Latin-themed holiday season dinner featuring authentic Latin foods and music. It was held in 2010 at an Ottawa-area restaurant that was attended by 10 people.

Interest grew steadily, however, and the 2013 event saw the restaurant filled to capacity. In 2014, they organized a successful gala that attracted 200 participants from DND and other government departments.

The group’s profile grew still more when members were invited to take part in Festival Latino Ottawa’s 2015 edition, when they marched in uniform as part of the opening parade. They have continued to be part of that event, which takes place each September.

Created database of civil servants with Latin American heritage

The executive group has also kept busy developing a database of 4,000 public servants, including 2,100 from outside DND, who have expressed interest in being involved or at least wish to stay informed on events and developments.

“That is a big job,” Capt Garcia-Salas explained. “We went department by department without breaking confidentiality. It’s a real challenge because we have to contact one person at a time.”

“We were looking for Latin American last names,” he added. “And then we contacted them and asked if they wanted to receive more information. The majority agreed because I think it’s a positive thing that we can provide. Those who don’t have Latin American roots, if they appreciate the culture and want to be involved, they are welcome.”

Logo designed with stylized handshake to signify inclusion

That desire for inclusivity is reflected in a DND/CAF Latin-American Heritage logo Capt Garcia-Salas co-designed. It includes a stylized image of the North and South American continents joined together by a handshake to represent their shared humanity.

“When the Mayans greeted people they’d say, ‘In Lak’ech,’– ‘I am the other you.’ The response was ‘Hala Ken,’ – ‘You are the other me.’ This is a historical reflection of the unification of people on the American continent.”

DND study found greater diversity and inclusion

Dr. Barbara Waruszynski, a Defence Scientist with DND’s Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, conducts research in the areas of diversity and inclusion. At an event marking the 2019 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, she spoke about a recent study examining the perceptions of racism and harassment as experienced by visible minorities and Indigenous people working in DND and the CAF.

A major finding of the study, which involved approximately 275 military and civilian personnel, indicates that both organizations are moving in a positive direction towards fostering greater diversity and inclusion.

Although her study revealed that there remain challenges attributed to perceptions of racism in DND and the CAF, Dr. Waruszynski noted: “We had many positive comments coming from the participants with respect to how their chains of command were being far more inclusive of different groups.” Participants also gave suggestions on how the Defence Team can break down stereotypes to help foster better relationships.

Recognizing special events like Latin American Heritage Month, she added, helps to generate greater cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness across the Defence Team.

“By creating better cultural sensitivity and awareness, people start to develop a more holistic understanding of diverse cultural expressions which in turn builds an organization’s cultural competencies. This helps to inspire creativity, innovation, understanding, respect, and unity across diverse teams.”

Looking for heritage-themed photos and other items for October exhibition

The DND/CAF Latin-American Heritage executive group is seeking photographs and other related items for their inaugural heritage exhibition.

Anyone with something to contribute is invited to contact Capt Garcia-Salas (REY.GARCIA-SALAS@forces.gc.ca) or Capt Hoyos (MILTON.HOYOS@forces.gc.ca).

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