10/12/2011 06:59 am ET Updated Dec 12, 2011


Alan Murphy is the winner of NBC4 and Telemundo Washington's Hispanic Heritage Month Essay Contest. Below is his winning submission which answers the question, "Why is Hispanic Heritage Month Important?"

Having just come back from South & Central America, I'm thrilled to have been immersed in the many diverse Hispanic cultures firsthand. What intrigued me about all of the countries that I visited were the similar values that existed despite their differences. There seems to always be something that succeeds in binding these communities together, for example, the hospitality, language, family, and creativity. These are only a few of the many commendable values that the Hispanic community takes pride in and utilizes as instruments for achievement and success. We should celebrate the achievements of the Hispanic community everyday, but with added emphasis during National Hispanic Heritage Month which is recognized each year between September 15th and October 15th. This is a perfect time for the United States to showcase the contributions of Hispanics, such as arts , language, and creativity & culture to the world. It's important to remember that as the Hispanics population continues to increase in the United States, so does their influence and importance worldwide.

The United States already recognizes many famous Hispanics on the world stage, a lot of them being in the realm of entertainment and literature. Talented Hispanic musicians such as Carlos Santana, Christina Aguilera, and Gloria Estefan continue to capture the attention of Americans with their marvelous music. Also, famous Hispanic painters such as the extremely well-known Pablo Picasso inspire ambitious artists around the globe. In the world of literature, Hispanic authors including Isabel Allende, Gabriel Marquez, and Jorge Luis Borges enthrall their readers with fascinating stories. These are just a few of the legendary contributors to American culture that helped weave the fabric of our nation. These contributors have significantly added to American culture by tapping into their own Hispanic culture.

In addition to the Hispanic community's achievements in entertainment and literature, they have also reached positions in the United States government that many people only dream about. One of the most recent was a Hispanic woman, named Sonia Sotomayor, who was the first Hispanic to be appointed to be a Supreme Court Justice. Unfortunately, there has not been a Hispanic president of the United States, but many attempts have been made. The increasing population of Hispanics in the United States foretells the increasing influence of Hispanics in our government as well.

In addition to the high positions Hispanics have reached using their ingenuity, creativity, and perseverance, they have also fused their rich culture with American culture. For example, salsa dancing, music, and cuisine, to name a few, have become a recognizable part of American culture. One of the reasons why Hispanic Heritage Month is so important is because it reflects the integral part of Hispanic culture in our diverse society. The United States takes pride in its diverse demographics, and the Hispanics are a major reason to thank for that. The United States can also thank Hispanics for adding new flavors into the magnificent, cultural melting pot that is our country.

It was the Spanish who ignited the spark of New World exploration 600 years ago which began the rich diversification thus creating the melting pot we call the USA. The Spanish supported Christopher Columbus, the man so many of us acknowledge for opening the door for Europeans and others to the New World. This, in turn, provoked many other countries to direct their attention to America and to help create the American dream. The Spanish were the primary forerunners of the New World development, which is why their culture can be viewed throughout the United States. Many US state and city names such as Colorado, Nevada, Los Angeles, etc., come from the Spanish language.

We live in a country where the Hispanic culture is a recognizable part of our daily lives, therefore it is no surprise that Spanish is the second language of the United States. About thirty or forty years ago, it was common for people to only speak one language in the United States: English. Now, many businesses encourage their employees to learn Spanish and offer bilingual services, which demonstrates how much the Hispanic community has grown over the years. Hispanic Heritage Month is important because it recognizes the wonderful pioneers, teachers, entertainers, authors, painters, discoverers, explorers, thinkers, scientists, inventors, and leaders in the Hispanic community. The United States is the magnificent country that it is because of the contributions of the Hispanics. Hispanic Heritage Month is a month to commend these achievements, to encourage new ones, and to acknowledge the contributions of Hispanics worldwide. I celebrate Hispanic culture everyday and I am thrilled that there is the extra focus during September and October.