Military News

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hispanic Heritage Month: Anthropology of coconuts

by Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
21st Space Wing Public Affairs

9/16/2015 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.  -- Puerto Rico is a country many Americans only dream of traveling to for a beautiful vacation. For one Peterson Airman, that tropical paradise was reality.

Senior Airman Andrew Rojas-Marquez, 21st Communications Squadron cybersecurity specialist, was born and raised in Puerto Rico and loved every second of it. His Hispanic heritage helped him to become a better son, husband and Airman.

Growing up in a commonwealth of the United States meant he had much of the same lifestyle that Americans know, but naturally with their own cultural spin. Puerto Ricans grow up learning both Spanish and English, celebrate American holidays as well as their own and listen to pop Spanish.

Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just some of the American holidays they celebrate, but specific traditions may be different. Thanksgiving isn't a traditional Puerto Rican holiday, but Rojas said they are happy to celebrate it.

The Puerto Rican twist to an American holiday is to roast a pig instead of the traditional American turkey, he said. In addition, the desserts are to die for. The most unique to Puerto Rico is anything with coconut in it.

"It's the best candy you've ever had," Rojas said. "There's nothing like the flavor of real, genuine coconut."

In addition to food, the music is also different. He said there is a lot of merengue and salsa music in Puerto Rico, but there is still pop and hip hop for younger generations, like in America.

Rojas came to the US while in high school briefly, and then went back to Puerto Rico to finish high school and bachelor's degree in anthropology and archeology. The percentage of people with degrees in Puerto Rico is very high, making it very competitive and challenging to get a job after graduating.

"I was like 75 percent of the population in Puerto Rico," he said.
In order to not be just another number competing for those few jobs, Rojas came to the U.S. with his wife in 2011 in search of a career. When his new job was going to be cut, he looked to the military as his top option.

Rojas said his mother was prior enlisted Navy and then an Air Force officer. For him, there was no doubt which military branch he was going to choose.

"The Air Force is great," he said. "Education wise, you can get employment, work experience and at the same time, your education."

The education is really what drew him, so in 2012 at the age of 24, Rojas joined the Air Force. That and the acceptance of individuals coming from different backgrounds influenced his choice.

"It's very open-minded and very professional," he said. "It's based on your qualities as an individual and as a professional."

Being part of the small 13.1 percent of Hispanic Airmen throughout the entire Air Force, Rojas said his heritage helps give him a different perspective, although he does have to translate his thoughts from Spanish to English as he speaks. The culture is very job oriented in Puerto Rico, which helps him be diligent in his career and continuously looking for ways to improve himself.

"I had this idea that if I didn't have a bachelor's degree that I wasn't going to get anywhere," he said. "I'm working on my (master's degree in business administration) with an emphasis in cybersecurity. I'm also working on my Air Force associate degree so I have something technical."

With all the tuition assistance and resources available for Airmen to continue their education, Rojas said furthering his education wasn't ever a question. All the opportunities available are what he tells anyone who is considering the military.

"It's a great experience and they'll get so much out of it," he said. "The best thing is education, professionalism and serving the country as well. In all honesty, it's the best kept secret."

The benefits reaped by signing the dotted line go well beyond the education and advancement options. Rojas said the military gave him structure and yet another thing to be proud of. While his heritage and background is different, he wears the same uniform and fulfills the Air Force core values of excellence, service and integrity every day.

(The is part one of a four part series highlighting Hispanic Airmen for Hispanic Heritage Month)

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