CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — “Hola.” It’s becoming a familiar greeting throughout Tennessee. In fact, saying hello to our Hispanic neighbors and co-workers is becoming more common as that population’s growth outpaces all minority groups in America.

In recognition of the increasing presence and importance of Hispanic Americans in our state and to our culture, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is partnering with area organizations to observe national Hispanic-American Heritage Month, Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

The celebration will officially kick off on Sept. 22 at 10 a.m. with a tribute at BlueCross’ downtown headquarters on Pine Street. With the theme “Many Countries, Many Cultures,” the observance seeks to educate people on the many facets of Hispanic-American culture. Activities will include remarks from BlueCross senior management and community leaders along with a mariachi band, piñatas, Latin-inspired dishes, and information on health issues such as immunizations and racial disparities in health care access. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free to the public. Area Hispanics and others are encouraged to attend.

In addition to the Sept. 22 celebration, BlueCross will have a Hispanic-Heritage exhibit in its Miller Building windows at the corner of Market and 7th Streets. From Sept. 17 to Oct. 15, individuals can visit the display and see artifacts and photos from Latin-American countries and learn about their rich histories.

In Tennessee, the Hispanic population increased from 125,330 in 2000 to approximately 139,861 in 2002—an 11.6 percent increase—according to the Chattanooga Resource Foundation. Current estimates in the greater Chattanooga area suggest that the Hispanic population is nearly 8,000.

“As our state becomes more diverse, it’s important to educate ourselves about our differences as well as our similarities,” said Ron Harris, senior manager of workforce diversity at BlueCross. “As a company with millions of members and several thousand employees, we realize the value of diversity and recognize that education is the key to better understanding and relationships.”

Area organizations participating in the Hispanic-American month observance include the Hamilton County Health Department, First Tennessee, the Spanish Club at Baylor School, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Group, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Los Compadres, Creative Discovery Museum, Memorial Hospital, and Clear Channel Communications.

Area agencies and groups interested in participating in this year’s celebration should contact David Ortiz with BlueCross at (423) 535-5619.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.