Academy celebrates Hispanic heritage

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Alfredo Sandoval has always known who and what he is. He can't say the same about the Census Bureau.

Because of the federal government's multiple redefinitions of Hispanic ethnicity, Sandoval has been a little bit of everything over the years: black, white, Indian, Chicano. And that doesn't really begin to cover all the bases, as he's quick to point out.

But both Sandoval and his audience can definitively say that he was the primary speaker at the Air Force Academy's luncheon Sept. 15 to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month.

The 1982 Academy grad recounted his rise through the ranks of the Air Force against a backdrop of a country growing more and more brown by the decade. To help him tell his story about the increasing Hispanic presence in the U.S., he cited facts and figures from the Census Bureau.

The true measure of improvement, though, was the number of Mexican restaurants and the quality of the Mexican food in Colorado Springs. Sandoval's verdict: By the 1990s, Mexican food was much better but still not great.

That, more or less, mirrored the more serious message he came to the Falcon Club to deliver. Sandoval had some pointed words for both young Hispanics starting their military career and for the old guard at the top.

"As a people, we must adapt and master the English language without fear of losing our identity," he said. "And it is critical that we put a greater emphasis on education. You Hispanic cadets must continue to lead and be the example in obtaining advanced degrees."

Sandoval also noted that the Hispanic population of the United States increased 43 percent in the time between when he became a cadet and when he retired. In his opening remarks, he said that Hispanic ethnicity crosses all races and cultures.

He called on the Department of Defense to review its core competencies. He added that if current trends continue, both in the U.S. population and the military command structure, the officer corps will reflect neither the military at large nor the nation it serves.

"There's a critical need to understand our country's makeup," Sandoval said. "All those stories need to be told. If my classmates and I had known that there would be few opportunities for us in the future, we might have made a different choice about coming to the Air Force Academy."

Sandoval took pains to emphasize that improving the lot of Hispanics who choose the military will be a two-way street that requires a proactive stance.

He closed on a hopeful note, though, saying, "Being a Hispanic-American makes me proud to know that I have a past and a future."

Celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Academy will continue with "Taste of Latin America" in Arnold Hall at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 22. There will also be several sessions of "Fitness a lo Latino" (Zumba lessons).