Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating the 'American Mosaic'

Cadet 2nd Class Frank Montes de Oca is assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy's Cadet Squadron 7. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Cadet 2nd Class Frank Montes de Oca is assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy's Cadet Squadron 7. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- What makes America great? Some say it's the freedoms American citizens are guaranteed. Others may say it's the opportunities available at our fingertips. If you ask me, I say this country is great because of its diversity.

My parents immigrated to New York City in the early '80s. My father is Honduran and my mother Costa Rican. They came to the U.S. to establish a new life by seeking the opportunities America has to offer. Shortly after my birth, we moved to Florida. My parents worked from sunrise to sunset to provide for my sister and me, and took English classes at night. My father later attended technical schools and my mother took a job at Walt Disney World, where she's remained for 20 years.

My parents taught me the importance of diversity and seeing past racial or cultural differences at a young age. Even while adjusting to the American lifestyle, they gave me a foundation of heritage I will carry the rest of my life. Regardless of my Hispanic heritage, there was always one important factor in my life: I am an American.

Hispanic Heritage Month is more than an observance of my heritage - it's a testimony to our willingness as Americans to learn about other cultures. I have my own story, but even my closest Hispanic friends regularly teach me new things about heritage.

As I think about Hispanic Heritage Month, I can't help but see the humor in how little I know about all the other Latin American countries. I'm familiar with the Honduras and Costa Rican cultures because of my mother and father, but digging deeper, I now realize how rich Latin American countries are in history and custom.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of diversity within diversity. The beauty of this month is that those of us at the Academy get to observe the roots of diversity embedded in all walks of life in the United Sates.

My parents taught me that I am a part of the American mosaic. I'm a young Hispanic-American in the Air Force. I am unique in my upbringing and my heritage. I can teach others about my heritage while embracing others' differences and the ideas they bring to the table.

I thank my parents for inspiring me every day to discover how I can contribute to our world. Let's continue moving forward toward inclusion and the recognition that regardless of our diverse backgrounds or heritage, as a unified Air Force we have more to offer than we may ever know.