SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.-- --
Hispanic Americans serving in the armed forces are a fundamental part of an increasingly diversified military.
In recognition of this, Hispanic Heritage Month takes place Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
The theme for this year is “Hispanics: One Endless Voice to Enhance our Traditions.”
According to the Air Personnel Center website, Hispanic service members make up 14.3 percent of total Air Force personnel, and that number is growing.
The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.
“National Hispanic Heritage Month is important as this is a time where we recognize all the contributions Hispanic people have made to the United States,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Vazquez, flight chief of operations support with the 3rd Space Experimentation Squadron.
Having spent his adolescent years in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Vazquez shared his heritage.
“In middle school, I moved to Puerto Rico,” he said. “Getting the opportunity to live and see where my parents grew up was an amazing experience – I love my culture.”
Proud of her Mexican background, Senior Airman Bianca Alonzo, financial analyst with the 50th Comptroller Squadron, grew up in McAllen, Texas, where she lived only miles away from the U.S. – Mexico border.
“The Mexican community was so big in my town,” she said. “Growing up, we used to drive to a town called Reynosa, where some of my family lived. We would go and just enjoy the overall atmosphere. Those small towns we visited are where the heart of Mexico is. I always enjoyed getting to know the people, their traditions and soaking up the culture every time I went.”
Vazquez and Alonzo both share a passion for family values, saying how it is a key aspect of their Hispanic heritage.
“One of the best parts of moving to Puerto Rico was meeting so many family members I never knew I had,” Vazquez said. “One thing I will always remember is our huge family gatherings during the holidays. We have a tradition called ‘parranda.’ We would go door to door singing songs and playing instruments. We would go all across Puerto Rico and pick up family members along the way until we eventually had the entire family together.
“Having those values and pride in our heritage is something I want to instill in my children,” he continued. “My kids have never been to Puerto Rico, but I intend to take the whole family one day.”
Following the paths of their family members’ military careers, both Airmen decided they wanted to serve their country too.
“I have uncles and cousins who are in different branches of the military,” Alonzo said. “In high school, I was in the Marine Corps JROTC. After high school, I worked and went to school but as time passed, I was inspired by my family members who were serving and realized my desire to join.”
Vazquez said his parents encouraged him to take the Air Force path.
“My parents told me ‘you have three choices: Air Force, Air Force or Air Force,’ so there was no difficulty in choosing what branch to join,” he laughed.
“My mom and dad both served in the U.S. Army,” he continued. “My mom joined the military straight out of Puerto Rico knowing zero English. She faced a lot of challenges, but she kept her motivation. Hearing about her struggles has definitely helped to motivate me in my Air Force career. Many values my parents instilled in me growing up were a solid foundation for my military career.”
In addition to their own cultural perspectives, Vazquez and Alonzo’s time in service opened their viewpoints to the values and customs of other cultures as well. They believe diversity has helped introduce new perspectives and means for the military to thrive.
“Without diversity, we won’t be able to learn or grow,” Alonzo said. “We all bring a certain piece to the puzzle – we are all different and can add something to the team that others won’t be able to. That way, we all start to fit in with each other and create a beautiful collage.”
Knowing the importance of diversity in the military, Alonzo spearheaded the Hispanic Heritage booth for Diversity Day.
“A main reason why I led that booth was to show people there are so many different Hispanic cultures out there,” she said. “We are all unique in our own way. I wanted to bring a light to the Hispanic world.”
Hispanic service members, like others, have brought their cultural values into the ranks, contributing to the Air Force and the military way of life.