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October 26, 2012


Hispanic Heritage:
Music bridges cultural divide

Story & photo by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

Music helped bring the rich tapestry of the South American Andean mountain culture to life during Fort McCoy’s Oct. 9 observance of Hispanic Heritage Month.
PHOTO: Jose Muenala (right) and his wife, Suzanne Reed, entertain members of the Fort McCoy community. Photo by Rob Schuette
Jose Muenala (right) and his wife, Suzanne Reed, entertain members of the Fort McCoy community attending a Hispanic Heritage Month luncheon at the installation. Their music is based in the South American Andean Mountain range and the couple uses the music to try to connect their culture with that of other people.
(Photo by Rob Schuette)

Jose Muenala, a flutist, and his wife, Suzanne Reed, who plays a number of percussion-type instruments to accompany him provided music and cultural depictions, including traditional dress during their appearance at Fort McCoy.

Many people may recognize them as Muenala, a group that has performed at Warrens Cranberry Festival on a regular basis for the past 18 years. Muenala and Reed, who live in Evanston, Ill., usually bring their presentations to school-age children as part of a not-for-profit cultural arts education organization in Chicago.

“This is the first time I’ve ever played for a military audience,” Muenala said. “I was nervous, but I enjoyed performing here.”
Reed said the couple is glad their music can be part of other people’s lives. People have told her they play CDs of their music when they’re driving and having a bad day, during the birth of a baby and even at funerals.

“We try to bring connections from one culture to another with our music,” Reed said. “We truly appreciate everything you do to serve our country.”

The Hispanic Heritage Month observance began in 1968 when President Johnson approved a Hispanic Heritage Week. The observance was expanded by President Reagan to a 30-day period from Sept. 15-Oct. 15 in 1988.

Master Sgt. Matthew Fitzgibbons, Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity adviser, said there are many significant/important events in Hispanic history that fall within those dates.

On Sept. 15, 1821, five Latin American countries, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua declared independence from Spanish colonization. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days Sept. 16 and 18, respectively.

Columbus reached the Americas in October 1492 and also conducted several of his visits during subsequent trips to the new world in October.

Sept. 15, 1980 also plays an important role in Fitzgibbon’s life as it is the day he was told he had been adopted.

“I found out the news when the army soldiers in Guatemala marched past the orphanage where I was living,” he said. Fitzgibbons has been in the U.S. for more than 30 years, arriving in late 1981.

Fort McCoy Garrison Commander Col. Steven W. Nott said the language, religion, food and dress can help bring cultures together. Music also can help share a message across cultures.

For more information about ethnic observances in the Fort McCoy community, call Fitzgibbons at 608-388-3246.

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