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Mangoes and Magnolias – A Celebration of Hispanic History

Since 1968, our nation has recognized the contributions of American citizens with Hispanic ancestry. What started out as a weeklong celebration, evolved into National Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988.

For families like mine, it’s a time of sharing! Whether it’s a fiesta, a classroom project, or a cultural event, it’s a chance to share our recipes, music and traditions. Among my favorites are the talks about Latinos/Hispanics in U.S. history!

It’s always fun to see the expression on kids’ faces when I talk about Desi Arnaz and Celia Cruz in the same breath as Rita Hayworth and Admiral David Farragut! The “what did she say” look is hard to miss! No mistake. Yes, all of them were Hispanic.

Cuban-born Desi Arnaz and Celia Cruz were trendsetters in the world of entertainment. Among Arnaz’ many firsts was taping a TV show in front of a live audience! Cruz and her azucar were to salsa what Elvis was to rock n’ roll! Long before Hayworth made her mark in Hollywood, she was Margarita Carmen Cansino. She was born in N.Y. to a father from Spain. Her stage name Hayworth, coming from her mom who was of Irish–English descent. Farragut’s story is one of my favorites! America’s first admiral in the Navy was Hispanic! Born in Tennessee, he was the son of a Spaniard! He’s the same admiral who famously ordered, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Their stories of success and sacrifice have stood the test of time! Did they speak Spanish? Did they like black beans & rice? Did they change their names to sound more Anglo? Who cares? That’s not what National Hispanic Heritage Month is about. It is about celebrating the Hispanic roots in this melting pot we call home! It’s about recognizing that all of us – regardless of our ethnicities – have a role to play in this great nation! Whether I live life as a Cuban- American steeped in Latino traditions or as Lissette from Long Island, NY, is irrelevant. Why should I have to be one or the other? I am both. To quote Carmen Agra, a favorite author of mine, I am “an amazing hybrid of mangoes and magnolias.”

It’s that combination that brings me to one of the most emotional moments of my life! On Oct. 26, I will humbly receive the Hispanic Woman of the Year Award from the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. The amazing woman who nominated me was ABC Action News Anchor Linda Hurtado! The University of Georgia bulldog has been a precious friend to me and my husband since we arrived in Tampa 12 years ago. Linda’s Hispanic roots trace back to her grandfather Jose Ernesto Hurtado who was an immigrant from Guatemala – making her a hybrid too – igual que yo (just like me).


Lissette Campos is director of community affairs at ABC Action News. For more on Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc.’s 2013 Hispanic Man & Woman of the Year, visit For educational resources on National Hispanic Heritage Month, visit

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