The Bold Faced Blog™

November 11, 2016

In Honor of the Immigrant Veteran Legacy and Diversity

Posted 2 years 252 days ago by Mercedes Martin

This blog is dedicated to all my hermanas veteranas for serving our country, leading our troops and disrupting traditional gender roles. Thank you for role modeling, often completely unaware of the impact and message you were/are sending to young women and girls around the globe.


I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corp on the same evening that I graduated from the University of Miami with an undergraduate degree in Transcultural Nursing. That was more than 30 years ago and this is the first time that I have written about the experience. Today, I am embarrassed to share that joining the military was not based on some strategic life decision. Instead, it was based on a 21-year-old caught in conflicting cultural roles that others expected me to fill. Think old school, catholic Cuban refugee family where the girls get married, take care of elderly family members, or join the convent.


I thought that as a military officer, I would get to travel, make my family proud, and experience leadership as a woman in a completely different context. The decision was a no-brainer for me that proved to be a life changing experience where I found my passion in leadership development and cross cultural executive coaching. While in the service I met other immigrant women, and after much reflection we came to understand the similarities in our stories.


To my surprise and humbled appreciation, the decision made my family proud. To this day, my Cuban American family recalls one career milestone after another. They sometimes forget that I went to “The U” yet have framed every award and piece of paper received while in the military and till this day ask,  “Are you still involved with the military?” 


As a first generation Cuban refugee family, having a daughter who served this nation was their way of saying thank you to a country that adopted us as their own. And while the Cuban refugee experience came with some privileges, we still experienced the same challenges of being the first generation to adapt to a new and different culture, language and norms. Dating with a chaperone to learning to speak up were all a part of navigating the often conflicting cultural messages and experiences.


The idea of immigrants in the armed services is nothing new and the numbers keep rising. February 2008 data from the Department of Defense showed that more than 65,000 immigrants, defined as non-citizens and naturalized citizens, were serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. This represented approximately 5 percent of all active-duty personnel. Nationally, each year around 8,000 non-citizens enlist in the military. The top two countries of origin for foreign-born military personnel in the U.S. are the Philippines and Mexico. Nearly 11 percent of those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces are of Hispanic origin.


The military benefits greatly from the service of its foreign-born. Non-citizen recruits offer greater racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity than citizen recruits. This diversity is particularly valuable given the military's increasingly global agenda. Additionally, statistics show that Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic non-citizens who have served for at least 3 months are nearly 10 percent less likely to leave the service than white citizens. Non-citizens who have served for at least 36 months are 9 to 20 percent less likely to leave the service than white citizens.


What makes everything different this year is that we just experienced the most unusual presidential election. The election discourse brought to the surface our complex and multi-faceted identities and questions of what it means to live between the hyphens: Cuban- American, Cuban-refugee, as a U.S. Veteran.


Thank you to all who have served, are serving and considering the honor of doing so. We invite you to share your immigrant veteran story with us.

Sources: Migration Information SourceOne America with Justice for AllThe White House, President Barack Obama

Tags: Diversity & Inclusion holiday honor Mercedes Martin thank you veterans Veteran's Day

Categories: categoryHolidays categoryWorkforce categoryDiversity & Inclusion

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