MANATEE -- For Esperanza Gamboa, exposure to different cultures represents a learning opportunity and the annual Hispanic Heritage Month is no exception.
"It's really a beautiful process, it's about sharing our cultures. That's the beauty of the U.S., that we are a huge melting pot," said Gamboa, coordinator for the Farmworker Education and Services Program at Manatee Technical Institute. "Everybody learns from everybody, I'm from the Caribbean, and my culture is totally different from Colombia, Venezuela,Mexico or Central American countries."
The national Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off in the middle of September to go along with the Sept. 15 independence day celebrations of Latin American countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras. Mexico's independence day, Sept. 16, and Columbus Day -- which commemorates Christopher Columbus' arrival to the Americas -- fall within the designated month.
The celebration of Hispanic culture, history and contributions ends Oct. 15.
"Hispanic heritage is important for our community," said Gamboa, who moved to the United States from Cuba 19 years ago.
About 20 years ago, Hispanics were a small group, "but now our community has really grown a lot and is very strong," she said.
Manatee Technical Institute will be hosting an annual festival to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in Myakka City in early October; a specific day had not been confirmed Thursday.
The monthlong celebration is particularly important for children born in the U.S. to parents from Latin American countries, said Gamboa, because they are able to learn about "the best of both worlds."
"They love it, they really appreciate it," said Gamboa of the students. "You just need to see it in their faces, it's really a joyful moment for the whole family."
To celebrate, the Palmetto Branch Library will host a presentation on Gamboa's new book, "Alma Desnuda," and feature live Colombian and folklore music by Atlántico Tropical Latin Band at 2 p.m. Saturday, said Yoshira Castro, library manager.
Manatee County's public library system has been recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month for at least eight years, Castro said.
"The idea is to present to the American culture the rich Latin American culture," she said
In Manatee County, about 15 percent of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
UnidosNow, a Sarasota-based nonprofit that advocates for the Hispanic community, will be having a gala Oct. 19 to celebrate its second anniversary. The gala, just four days after Hispanic Heritage Month, will also allude to the heritage celebration, said Frankie Soriano, UnidosNow's executive director.
"It's always good to remember where you came from and appreciate your roots," Soriano said. "Depending on what country you come from, it's a different world. We are hoping we can bring all cultures together."
Profits from the gala will be used to support the organization's programs.
Hispanic heritage observations began in 1968 as "Hispanic Heritage Week" and became a monthlong celebration in 1988, according to the Library of Congress.
Miriam Valverde,Urban Affairs reporter, can be reached at 745-7024.