At first glance, Centro Hispano’s September networking breakfast held inside the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce office may have seemed just like many of the others the organization hosts.

But, digging deeper, those in attendance likely realized that this particular gathering was a special one. For starters, it took place during Hispanic Heritage Month, a celebration of all the different ideas and people brought to this country by those of Hispanic origin.

Also - and to drive the point home about Hispanic investment in local business - the group was joined by representatives of the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who highlighted the many ways that Hispanic culture and traditions have helped to make America great.

“What we must remember is that Hispanic heritage is really American heritage,” said Yesenia Peck, president of the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “So many things that are thought of as Hispanic are wholly American.”

Peck went on about how many different things, big and small, in American culture have been inspired by Hispanic traditions. For instance, cowboys were inspired by Mexican vaqueros, all the way from the distinctive hat, bandana and boots. Country music is also inspired by elements from Hispanic culture, with Peck bringing up the example of Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire”.

“I bet you hear the bright chirp of the mariachi horns right now in that music,” Peck said.

Karina Perez, executive director of Centro Hispano, said that the visit from the Hispanic Chamber is a yearly happening. She added that it's not just designed to promote Hispanic heritage, but to promote the relationship between the Hispanic Chamber and Columbus.

“They have a great partnership here with our local area chamber of commerce and with us at Centro Hispano,” Perez said.

Diva Mejias, secretary of the Hispanic Chamber, talked about the importance of working within the community to build those relationships.

“For me, it’s very important because we are the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,” Mejias said. “We spend a lot of time in Omaha. We want everyone to know in the state of Nebraska that we are not just the Omaha Chamber of Commerce - we are the Nebraska state (Hispanic chamber). So, we reach out and make those connections throughout all of Nebraska, to all of the people so that they know what we do and who we are. It’s very important to reach out to the communities that we serve.”

With the event being held in the local chamber office, business was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. With that said, Centro Hispano spotlighted six local Hispanic business owners who had passed a business development course sponsored by the organization. Each received a certificate from Perez and from local Chamber President Jeanne Schieffer.

“It’s really exciting to see them come together and then having them join the Chamber. It’s a really awesome thing for them to see that growth, both locally and personally,” Perez said.

Every piece of the breakfast had a uniquely Hispanic and American feel, from the tacos served at the outset of the event, to Peck’s demonstration of how to say “we want salsa music” through clapping. Everything was done in both English and Spanish in order to make sure that no one felt left out or had a significant language barrier while attending.

Perez echoed the many points that Peck made about the unique connection between Hispanic and American cultures. She noted how people come together to utilize their own Hispanic heritages from all over the world to create a new, uniquely American tradition.

“There’s a lot of culture, there are a lot of individuals that come together to bring what is our traditional customs and traditions from our home countries,” Perez said. “It’s really nice to see because it is so much more than (what people think). It’s entrepreneurs, hard-working families and students who are giving back to our communities on an everyday basis. It’s really cool to see that.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.