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Honoring the Heritage: Celebrating the Second Annual Pan American Day

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From left to right: Captain Rey Garcia-Salas (CAF and LASC member), Colonel Luis Fernando Pillajo (Ecuadorian Military Attaché) and Dr. Johana Cabrera Pozo (wife of the Ecuadorian Military Attaché) (Courtesy of Captain Rey Garcia-Salas)

In the heart of Beechwood Cemetery, amid the whispers of history and echoes of bravery, a momentous celebration took place on April 17, 2024. A poignant occasion of remembrance and unity, Pan American Day brought together members of the Latin American Soldiers Committee (LASC), along with esteemed guests from the Canadian Armed Forces, embassies, cultural groups and military attachés, testifying to the enduring legacy of Latin American soldiers who throughout history have stood shoulder to shoulder with their Canadian counterparts in the noble pursuit of freedom and justice, often in the fine uniform of the Canadian military.

But what prompts us to celebrate Pan-American Day? The tradition dates back to 1930, when the Congress of American States met in Havana, Cuba, and officially declared April 14 as Pan-American Day. Originally created to honor the first International Conference of American States in Washington, DC in 1890, the day has evolved into a celebration of solidarity and cooperation among the nations of the Americas.

But Pan American Day goes beyond mere commemorations; it is a profound celebration of the courage, sacrifice and unwavering dedication of Latin American soldiers who have been instrumental in Canada's rich military history since World War I. This day has profound meaning as it constantly reminds us of their invaluable contributions and ensures that their heroic stories are immortalized in the annals of time.

Leading this extraordinary event was Nicolas McCarthy, Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations at Beechwood Cemetery and a stalwart member of the LASC Board of Directors. His unwavering commitment, coupled with the committee's vision, made Pan American Day a beacon of hope and unity for the Latin American community in Canada.

From left to right: Giuseppe Marconi (LASC member), Christophe Baldacchino (CAF DFL Protocol), Captain (N) Bernhard Arentsen (Chilean Military Attaché), Captain Rey Garcia-Salas (CAF and LASC member), Honorary Ambassador of Guatemala Guisela Atalida Godinez Sazo, Lesly Medina (member of the Centre Culturel Jaguar Ix Balam), Rossana Mayary Bocanegra (member of the Centre Culturel Jaguar Ix Balam), Sofia Espaderos Vasquez (member of the Centre Culturel Ix Balam), Betsy Monterosa (President of the Casa Cultural Peruana), Catherine Gamarro (Head of Mission and Diplomatic Staff of the Embassy of Peru), Captain (N) Marco Castro Caballero (Peruvian Naval Attaché) and Colonel Jorge Fernando Huaman (Peruvian Air Force Attaché) (Courtesy of Captain Rey Garcia-Salas)

The event served as an excellent platform to shine a spotlight on LASC's ongoing research efforts. Capt. Rey Garcia-Salas, another valued board member, emphasized the need to shed light on the stories of Latin American soldiers who are often relegated to the shadows of history. Despite myriad challenges, including the anglicization of names and inadequate documentation, LASC remains true to its mission to ensure these unsung heroes receive the recognition they clearly deserve. Canada is leading these initiatives and strives to inspire similar efforts in other Latin American countries.

Giuseppe Marconi, a dedicated board member, emphasized the paramount importance of community support in honoring Latin Americans who have volunteered to join the Canadian Armed Forces. He listed numerous instances in which the community has eagerly participated, from honoring Private Rafael Rodriguez at Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery, to organizing Latin American memorial ceremonies at various locations, to the first photo exhibition of Latin American soldiers, “Fields of Sacrifice,” at Gallery 55.

To promote unity and increase the impact of such events, greater engagement from politicians, CAF members and community stakeholders is imperative.

During the Peruvian community presentation, Ms. Betsy Monterosa, Director of Casa Cultural Peruana Inc., provided a comprehensive overview of ongoing research efforts in Peru covering regions such as Callo, Arequipa and Lima. The primary focus was on collecting information on Peruvians who served valiantly in the Canadian Armed Forces during World War I and World War II. Ms. Monterosa provided valuable insight into the complex historical and cultural dimensions that shape Latin American identity and provided a nuanced understanding of their contributions. In addition, she highlighted the challenges involved in conducting research related to Peruvians serving in Canada and emphasized the need for a centralized database to properly honor these heroes in Peru.

From left to right: Giuseppe Marconi (LASC member), Nick McCarthy (LASC member), Dr. Norma Alicia (Latin American communicator in Toronto), Betsy Monterosa (President of Casa Cultural Peruana), Peruvian doll with military Peruvian indigenous partners and Peruvian sombreros, and Captain Rey Garcia-Salas (CAF and LASC member) (Courtesy of Captain Rey Garcia-Salas)

Mr. McCarthy also noted the federal incorporation of the LASC, a significant milestone that paves the way for future partnerships and funding opportunities. This groundbreaking achievement ensures that the Committee's indelible legacy transcends time and resonates for generations to come.

As the event reached its climax, attention turned to the pressing tasks ahead. A petition to officially recognize Latin American Remembrance Day, to coincide with Latin American Heritage Month, received overwhelming support. This poignant recognition is a reverent tribute to the sacrifices of Latin American soldiers in the tireless pursuit of freedom.

During the exuberant celebration, two exemplary groups were honored for their outstanding contributions to promoting leadership and cultural preservation within the Latin American community. Casa Cultural Peruana Inc. and Centre Culturel Jaguar IX Balam were praised for their tireless dedication to keeping the flame of Latin American heritage alive and wholeheartedly supporting every initiative of the Committee of Latin American Soldiers.

During the closing of the ceremony, Catherine Gamarro, Head of Mission and Diplomatic Staff of the Peruvian Embassy, ​​together with Colonel Fernando Huaman, Peruvian Military Attaché in Canada, had the honor of presenting the award to Casa Cultural Peruana. In addition, the Ambassador of Guatemala, Guisela Atalida Godinez Sazo, presented the other plaque to the Centre Culturel Jaguar IX Balam. Their tireless commitment to preserving cultural heritage and history is truly commendable and deserves the highest recognition.

The event culminated in a poignant tribute where attendees were enthralled by a moving video presentation about the lives of Latin American soldiers and their invaluable service to Canada during World Wars I and II. This multimedia tribute served as a poignant reminder of the selfless sacrifices these brave people made in defense of freedom and justice.

In essence, the event provided attendees with a comprehensive overview of Latin America's military contributions to Canada. The Latin American Soldiers Committee looks forward to continuing its tireless efforts to preserve and celebrate Latin American heritage in the days to come.

As we reflect on the profound meaning of Pan American Day, we should never hesitate to honor the brave souls who paved the way to a better future. Their courage, sacrifice and unwavering devotion are a lasting beacon of hope for generations to come. Through the unity we forge in memory, we preserve their noble legacy and ensure that their brave stories endure and shine in the annals of time.

As the sun sets over Beechwood Cemetery, the spirit of Pan American Day lives on, leading us into a future where the echoes of bravery and sacrifice resonate through the ages. Let us join together in celebrating the indomitable spirit of Latin American heritage and paying tribute to the intrepid soldiers who left an indelible mark on the world we live in today.

By Captain Rey Garcia-Salas