RICHMOND, Va. –
In the United States, National Hispanic Heritage Month begins Sept. 15 each year, largely because that date marks the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Additionally, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on Sept. 16 and Sept. 18, respectively. For Pvt. Alexander Ayala, born to a Peruvian father and a Salvadoran mother, National Hispanic Heritage Month is all about celebrating the unique cultures of his family, as well as their independence.
“It's about the sacrifices our ancestors fought for," Ayala said. "It’s a very colorful, bright month and an amazing time to connect with our culture.”
Ayala, born in Fairfax, Virginia, and now a resident of Sterling, said celebrating the independence of his parent’s home countries is a family affair.
“My dad and I love celebrating our family's independence," he said. "We’ll make a big feast of traditional Peruvian food and my mom likes to toss some Salvadorian dishes in there as well."
His father, Ayala explained, makes pollo asado, a roast chicken dish served over rice and vegetables, while his mother makes pupusas, a corn pancake filled with cheese, beans and meat. The pupusa is the national dish of El Salvador, and Ayala said they always remind him of visiting his family there along with this mother when he was younger.
In addition to the food, Ayala said his family also takes time to talk more about history and culture of their home nations.
“My parents explain the stories and history from their countries and teach us the cultures," he said. "My dad taught me a Peruvian dance and my mom taught me a Salvadorian dance called the bachata."
Ayala first learned about the Virginia Army National Guard as a sophomore at Park View High School.
“My recruiter came to my school and we spoke," he said. "I gave him my contact information and we connected after that. I was interested in the educational benefits."
Ayala completed Basic Combat Training, or BCT, over the summer, and earned a hefty bonus when he enlisted as an 11B Infantryman. Once he completes his training, he will be assigned to the Leesburg-based Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.