Hispanic Heritage Month: a difference through diversity

By celebrating different ethnicities and cultures, heritage month events help educate and bring everyone together.

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Photo By Airman 1st Class Donald Knechtel | Senior Airman Yesenia Lopez Diaz, a physical evaluation board liaison officer assigned to the 28th Medical Support Squadron, wears a traje zacatecano (Zacatecano dress) in front of a mural in the 28th Medical Group at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Sept. 15, 2017. The traje de luces (suit of lights) is the traditional clothing that Spanish bullfighters wear. The term originates from the sequins and reflective threads of gold or silver. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel)
Photo By Airman 1st Class Donald Knechtel | Senior Airman Yesenia Lopez Diaz, a physical evaluation board liaison officer assigned to the 28th Medical Support Squadron, wears a traje zacatecano (Zacatecano dress) in front of a mural in the 28th Medical Group at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Sept. 15, 2017. The traje de luces (suit of lights) is the traditional clothing that Spanish bullfighters wear. The term originates from the sequins and reflective threads of gold or silver. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel)

“What’s in a name?” A popular reference to William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, and yet something more entirely. For Airmen who don the uniform, they wear their family’s name on their chest.

Names that carry a long history of tradition and culture.

All too often these cultures are blended like a mixture of paintbrushes in the same rinsing cup, where lines become blurred. This is a reality for Airmen who come from many cultures with Hispanic roots – many of them attempt to show the world they are diverse, with their own unique stroke on a painting.

Airmen like Senior Airman Yesenia Lopez Diaz, a physical evaluation board liaison officer assigned to the 28th Medical Support Squadron, observe Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating the histories and contributions of their ancestors. With the coordinated efforts of the diversity council, Ellsworth kicked off the 2nd annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration Sept. 14, 2017.

“Events like this make me happy about who I am and where I come from,” Lopez Diaz said. “Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to be around others who don’t think the same way, but it’s important that we have events like this so we can all get together and celebrate our differences.”

As a Hispanic American, Lopez Diaz understands the struggles of being classified under a culture that is not her own. Born and raised in the town of La Blanca, Zacatecas, she spent most of her life in Mexico. Her family could not afford to give her an education, so they made the decision to move to the United States where she would have to learn a new language and embrace a new culture.

“My parents and I moved here in 2006,” Lopez Diaz said. “It was very hard, especially adapting to a new culture, having to learn a new language, and being discriminated against. There were a lot of racist people around us when we moved in, and it was very difficult to get settled.”

Lopez Diaz attended high school where she met a retired Army Airborne Ranger who became her mentor, taught her leadership and the American way of life. Through his stories and teaching, Lopez Diaz was inspired to join the Army, where she dreamed of becoming a sniper.

This goal was unattainable at the time because Lopez Diaz had no social security number. She had to say no to the Army and college but she worked hard every day, applied for citizenship and by the age of 22, finally received her residency card. Shortly afterward, she would take her first steps toward a new life and enlist in the Air Force.

“A lot of people like Airman Lopez Diaz who moved to the U.S. from other countries join the military,” said Staff Sgt. Natasha Wohlwend, the noncommissioned officer in charge of diagnostic imaging assigned to the 28th Medical Support Squadron and president of the Ellsworth Diversity Council.

Wohlwend said Hispanic-American Airmen speak different languages and come from unique cultures. Even though they have very different backgrounds and ways of life, a lot of people mix them all together and think that they are all one and the same.

The Diversity Council clarified some common misconceptions by hosting various base activities from Sept. 14 to Oct. 15. By celebrating different ethnicities and cultures, heritage month events help educate and bring everyone together.

“Countries like Mexico, Spain, Belize, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and pretty much 90 percent of the different Hispanic cultures will be represented throughout the month,” Wohlwend explained. “Events like the food tasting and fiesta night help promote diversity and inclusion within the Air Force.”

Lopez Diaz added that these activities allow [the Diversity Council] to expose people to different cultures and to show them we aren’t all the same.

“This month is a reminder,” Lopez Diaz said. “Everyone will be together, talking to other Hispanics of different backgrounds, and having fun during a fiesta night with music, food, dancing – the whole thing, just like back home in Mexico.”

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CDR (Ret.) Gregory Black

CDR (Ret.) Black, US Navy, is the founder and key contributor to this Diverse Military Veterans Network website. He is a minority military historian and is well-versed in military diversity. (If you are interested in writing or contributing to this website please contact us.)

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