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Hispanic Heritage Month Reception

By Eddy Ball
November 2008

John Petranka
Biologist John Petranka was one of many visitors to the displays of photos, crafts and mementos from Latin American countries. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Elizabeth Padilla-Banks, left, posed with Hispanic Heritage Committee member Rose Ramos, Ph.D
Biologist Elizabeth Padilla-Banks, left, posed with Hispanic Heritage Committee member Rose Ramos, Ph.D., in the display area prior to the arrival of the musicians. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

the food and homemade desserts
Not surprisingly, the food and homemade desserts were extremely popular, and mid-way through the entertainment segment of the reception, most of these dishes were bare. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

As popular as the band's instrumentals were, it was the vocals that truly inspired audience involvement. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Following the Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture on September 25, NIEHS staffers and guests flocked to the Rall Building Cafeteria for food, entertainment and a glimpse into the cultures of several Latin countries at displays set up along the patio side of the cafeteria. The lecture itself was well attended (see related story (, and the reception drew nearly three times that number from the offices and labs on campus - including such sympatico colleagues as NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., and Acting Deputy Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., who showed their solidarity with the celebrants.

Refreshments included food from local Hispanic eateries and authentic homemade desserts from NIEHS employees of Hispanic origin. Musical entertainment was provided by a lively group of costumed musicians known as the Mariachi Los Galleros de Mexico, who played their first number as they entered the cafeteria and made their way to the staging area.

The band was obviously well experienced in engaging their crowds and struck an emotional chord among Hispanic listeners as they played the nostalgic songs "En mi Viejo San Juan" ("In My Old San Juan") and "Y Volver" ("And to Return" or "Coming Back"). The audience sang along to the songs and swayed in unison as the musicians played the evocative ballads.

Written during World War II by Noel Estrada, "En mi Viejo San Juan" is one of the most famous ballads of Puerto Rico. The song captures the longing of Puerto Rican emigrants and soldiers for their distant homeland. For many Puerto Ricans, it remains today a kind of second national anthem, and it was adopted as the official city anthem of San Juan.

"Y Volver" reflects a similar longing for the past among people of Hispanic descent, but the song has a more specifically romantic theme of separation by a lover who promises to return to the arms of the beloved. Also known by the shorter title "Volver," it was featured in the Pedro Almodóvar film of that name and sung by the character Raimunda, played by Pénelope Cruz. The song has also been covered and adapted by such vocalists as Ry Cooder and Los Lobos.

Both songs are staples at weddings and other gatherings that celebrate cultural solidarity as well as the events themselves and are likely to bring listeners to tears under the right circumstances. At the Hispanic Heritage Month reception, the food, displays, nostalgic songs and other music by Mariachi Los Galleros de Mexico served to underscore the pride and love of their culture for the NIEHS staffers whose roots extend to the countries of South and Central America.

Hispanic Heritage Committee Members

Rosemarie Ramos

Lysandra Castro

Maria Sifre

Trisha Castranio

Brad Collins

Eli Ney, Committee Co-Chair

Veronica Godfrey, Chair

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November 2008 Cover Page

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