The observance began in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson. It was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting Sept. 15. The monthlong observance was enacted into law Aug. 17, 1988.
The theme for this year’s observance is “Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation.” The theme invites us to reflect on Hispanic Americans’ service and contributions to the history of our nation, our commonwealth and our region.
For almost 500 years, people of Hispanic heritage have established roots and played a vital role in Virginia’s history. In 1570, Spanish explorers landed in Virginia during a Jesuit mission where the Ajacan settlement was established on the James and York rivers. Two hundred years later during the American Revolutionary War, Spain aided the American colonies by providing financial support and winning significant battles against the British.
Fast forward to 2019 and men and women of Hispanic heritage continue to play vital roles in Hampton Roads. They serve as business leaders, faith leaders, politicians, educators, first responders, public servants, entrepreneurs and military service members. They work hard and give back to their community in massive ways.
This Chamber means business! We strive every day to set the conditions for all people in Hampton Roads to succeed, to include our Hispanic population. The region is home to more than 1.7 million individuals, with Hispanics making up 6.1 percent of the total population and growing.
Additionally, according to the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, Hispanics own 2.1 percent (573) of the 27,270 businesses operating in the region.
One notable Hispanic-owned business is SimIS Inc., an innovative information technology and veteran-owned business founded by Johnny Garcia. Garcia is the 2019 Hampton Roads Chamber Entrepreneur of the Year and SimIS, Inc. is the 2018 Hampton Roads Chamber Small Business of the Year recipient.
“The potential for Hispanics to grow our economy is enormous,” Garcia said. “The Hispanic community is the fastest-growing segment of the immigrant population. Clearly, Hispanic Americans will continue to play an important role, as our nation faces the challenges of the 21st century.”
Another prominent Hispanic business owner and Hampton Roads Chamber member is Georgie Márquez, principal of Andre + Marquez Architects Inc.
Andre + Marquez began 26 years ago in Virginia Beach and has since relocated to Norfolk, where Georgie and her husband Joel own and operate their architecture firm servicing both the public and private sectors.
“When we first arrived in Hampton Roads, back in 1987, there were very few Hispanics in the region. Over the past years, though, it’s been exciting to see the Hispanic community grow and become an important part of the area,” Georgie Márquez said.
Johnny and Georgie are right. Today, Hispanics constitute the largest segment of the ethnic community in America and the population continues to grow. In Virginia alone, 9.6 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic, and according to Pew Research Center, states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations are not in the South and tend to have a small number of Hispanic residents initially.
These two factors alone indicate Hampton Roads is poised to leverage Hispanic talent to foster economic and business development. And it is critical we do so as we strive to improve our economy by helping existing businesses expand and attract new business to the area.
The Chamber is actively championing for the advancement and growth of minorities in Hampton Roads because, not only is it the right thing to do, but we know embracing diversity and inclusion in the business community will play a powerful role in growing our economy.
“Give us a chance,” Georgie Márquez said. “We understand that it is easy and comfortable to do business with people who look like and sound like you. But, take a risk; open the door and allow us to wow you!”
It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s celebrate Hispanic Americans’ tremendous service and contributions to our region!