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Honouring the Legacy: Celebrating Second Annual Pan American Day

De gauche à droite : Capt Rey Garcia-Salas (membre du CSLA et des FAC), Col Luis Fernando Pillajo (attaché militaire équatorien) et Johana Cabrera Pozo, Ph.D. (épouse de l’attaché militaire équatorien) (photo : Capt Rey Garcia-Salas)

In the heart of Beechwood Cemetery, amid the whispers of history and the echoes of valor, a momentous celebration unfolded on April 17, 2024. Pan American Day, a poignant occasion of remembrance and unity, convened members of the Latin American Soldiers Committee (LASC) alongside esteemed guests from Canadian Armed Forces, embassies, cultural groups, and military attaches. It stood as a testament to the enduring legacy of Latin American soldiers who, throughout history, have stood shoulder to shoulder with their Canadian counterparts in the noble pursuit of freedom and justice, often clad in the distinguished uniform of the Canadian Military.

But what prompts us to commemorate Pan American Day? The tradition traces its roots to 1930, when the Congress of American States convened in Havana, Cuba, formally establishing 14 April as Pan American Day. Initially conceived to honor the inaugural International Conference of American States held in Washington, D.C. in 1890, this day has evolved into a celebration of solidarity and cooperation among the nations of the Americas.

Yet, Pan American Day transcends mere commemoration; it serves as a profound tribute to the courage, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication of Latin American soldiers, pivotal architects of Canada’s rich military history since First World War. This day holds deep significance as a steadfast reminder of their invaluable contributions, ensuring that their heroic tales remain etched in the annals of time.

At the helm of this extraordinary event stood Nicolas McCarthy, Director of Marketing, Communications, and Community Outreach at Beechwood Cemetery, and a stalwart member of the LASC board. His unwavering commitment, coupled with the vision of the committee, converted Pan American Day into a beacon of hope and unity for the Latin American community in Canada.

From left to right: Giuseppe Marconi (LASC member), Christophe Baldacchino (CAF DFL Protocol), Capt (N) Bernhard Arentsen (Chilean Military Attache), Capt Rey Garcia-Salas (CAF and LASC member), Hon Ambassador of Guatemala Guisela Atalida Godinez Sazo, Lesly Medina (Centre Culturel Jaguar Ix Balam member), Rossana Mayary Bocanegra( Centre Culturel Jaguar Ix Balam member), Sofia Espaderos Vasquez (Centre Culturel Ix Balam member), Betsy Monterosa ( President of Casa Cultural Peruana), Catherine Gamarro (Head of Mission and Diplomatic Staff Embassy of Peru), Capt (N) Marco Castro Caballero ( Naval Peruvian Attache) and Col Jorge Fernando Huaman (Air Peruvian Attache) (Courtesy of Capt Rey Garcia-Salas)

The event served as a resplendent platform to spotlight the ongoing research endeavors spearheaded by the LASC. Capt. Rey Garcia-Salas, another esteemed board member, underscored the imperative of lighting the narratives of Latin American soldiers often relegated to the shadows of history. Despite navigating myriad challenges, including name anglicization and inadequate record-keeping, the LASC remains resolute in its mission to ensure that these unsung heroes receive the recognition they unequivocally deserve. Canada spearheads these initiatives, aspiring to inspire analogous endeavors across Latin American nations.

Giuseppe Marconi, a dedicated board member, emphasized the paramount significance of community support in honoring the Latin Americans who voluntarily joined the Canadian Armed Forces. He recounted numerous instances where the community fervently participated, from paying tribute to Private Rafael Rodriguez at Mount Hope Catholic Cemetery to organizing Latin American Remembrance Ceremonies across various locales and the first Latin American Soldiers “Fields of Sacrifice” photographic exhibition at Gallery 55.

Greater involvement from politicians, CAF members and community stakeholders is imperative to foster unity and amplify the impact of such events.

During the Peruvian Community Presentation, Mrs. Betsy Monterosa, Director of Casa Cultural Peruana Inc., delivered a comprehensive update on the ongoing research efforts conducted in Peru, covering regions such as Callo, Arequipa and Lima. The primary focus was on gathering information about Peruvians who bravely served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the First and Second World Wars. Mrs. Monterosa provided valuable insights into the intricate historical and cultural dimensions that shape Latin American identities, offering a nuanced understanding of their contributions. Furthermore, she highlighted the challenges inherent in conducting research within the context of Peruvians serving in Canada, emphasizing the need for a centralized database to honor these heroes adequately in Peru.

From left to right: Giuseppe Marconi (LASC member), Nick McCarthy (LASC member), Doctor Norma Alicia (Latin American Communicator in Toronto), Betsy Monterosa ( President of Casa Cultural Peruana), Peruvian Manikin with military Peruvian indigenous partners and Peruvian sombreros and Capt Rey Garcia-Salas (CAF and LASC member) (Courtesy of Capt Rey Garcia-Salas)

Mr. McCarthy also indicated the federal incorporation of the LASC, a momentous milestone paving the path for future partnerships and funding opportunities. This watershed achievement ensures that the indelible legacy of the committee transcends temporal confines, resonating across generations to come.

As the event reached its culmination, attention turned to the compelling endeavors that lie ahead. A petition for the official recognition of Latin American Remembrance Day, slated to coincide with Latin Heritage Month, garnered resounding support. This poignant acknowledgment serves as a reverent tribute to the sacrifices of Latin American soldiers in the relentless pursuit of freedom.

Amidst the jubilant festivities, two exemplary groups were honored for their superlative contributions to fostering leadership and cultural preservation within the Latin American community. Casa Cultural Peruana Inc. and Centre Culturel Jaguar IX Balam were lauded for their unwavering dedication to upholding the flame of Latin American heritage, wholeheartedly championing every initiative organized by the Latin American Soldiers Committee.

During the completion of the ceremony, Catherine Gamarro, Head of Mission and Diplomatic Staff from the Embassy of Peru, alongside Colonel Fernando Huaman, the Peruvian Military Attache to Canada, had the esteemed privilege of presenting the award to Casa Cultural Peruana. Additionally, the Ambassador of Guatemala, Guisela Atalida Godinez Sazo, presented the other plaque to Centre Culturel Jaguar IX Balam. Their steadfast commitment to preserving cultural heritage and history was truly commendable and deserving of the utmost recognition.

The event culminated with a poignant tribute, as attendees were enraptured by a stirring video presentation chronicling the lives of Latin-American Soldiers and their invaluable service to Canada during the First and Second World Wars. This multimedia homage served as a poignant reminder of the selfless sacrifices made by these valiant individuals in defense of freedom and justice.

In essence, the event provided attendees with a comprehensive panorama of Latin American military contributions to Canada. The Latin American Soldiers Committee eagerly anticipates continuing its tireless efforts to safeguard and exalt Latin American heritage in the days ahead.

As we reflect upon the profound significance of Pan American Day, let us never waver in honoring the gallant souls who have paved the path to a brighter future. Their valor, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication stand as an enduring beacon of hope for generations to come. Through the unity forged in remembrance, we perpetuate their noble legacy, ensuring that their valorous tales shall endure, resplendent in the annals of time.

As the sun descends upon Beechwood Cemetery, the spirit of Pan American Day endures, guiding us toward a future where the echoes of valor and sacrifice resound across the epochs. Together, let us celebrate the indomitable spirit of Latin American heritage and pay tribute to the intrepid soldiers who have indelibly shaped the world we inhabit today.

By Capt Rey Garcia-Salas