New Jersey recently kicked off its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month with a seven-day Latino Bus & Bike Tour promoting the state's Hispanic history, culture and heritage. The tour began Thursday, Sept. 22 in Paterson and ended in Atlantic City, with stops in West New York, Union City, Hoboken, and Jersey City. Joining the tour was the event's key sponsor, State Department Secretary of State Regena Thomas.
"This is going to be a learning experience for me," said Thomas. "The beauty of Hispanic Americans is, you have cultures within the culture, and each culture is a little different."
"It's important that we know who our neighbors are and the beauty that they contribute to the state," said Michele Brown, public relations officer for the Secretary of State.
As part of the long-term vision she undertook when she was first sworn into office, Thomas wanted to celebrate the cultures and history that made up New Jersey - from the African-American struggle for freedom through the local underground railroad, to the battles led by George Washington during the Revolution, to the continued arrival and impact of immigrants today.
"When the Secretary of State first took office her department, she was very committed to celebrating the diversity of the state," said Brown. "Demographically, New Jersey is the most diverse state in the union, and she wanted to lift up all those communities and cultures."
Sponsored by New Jersey's Departments of State and Community Affairs through the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development (CHPRD), the Latino Bus & Bike Tour drew out elected officials, organizations and residents from all over the state. Also joining the secretary on this tour were members of the New Jersey Youth Corps, the representative voice of the state's youngest residents.
After the kickoff in Paterson on Sept. 22, the tour stopped in Hackensack and then Hudson County. In West New York, they were greeted by the members of Town Hall and Oscar Miquelli of the Urban Enterprise Zone.
Their next stop took them to Union City, where again they were greeted by members of City Hall, as well as area residents who posed for pictures with the bikers.
Starting out with the tour from Paterson were eight members of the local NJ Youth Corps chapter.
"It's been a beautiful experience; it's been great," said Sonia Oliveros, 17, while in Hudson County. "This is going to be our last stop, because we have to start going back."
They rounded off their tour in Hudson County with a visit to Hoboken and a final stop and evening festival at Jersey City's Liberty State Park from 5 to 7 p.m.
"In Jersey City, there will be Latino Greek organizations that will be stepping in, and in Camden there is a huge multi-cultural festival," said Brown. The tour continued through Sept. 30 with a final event on Atlantic City's famous Boardwalk.
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