Hispanic Heritage Month: Many backgrounds, many stories, one American spirit

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kristin Mack
  • Laughlin AFB Public Affairs
National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the contributions Hispanic Americans have made to American society and culture. The month-long celebration begins Sept. 15 and continues through Oct. 15. The dates were chosen in honor of five Central American countries which celebrate their independence in September.

The influence of the Hispanic culture is reflected not only in the arts and music of the United States, but Hispanic Americans also serve as leaders in government, business and the military.

This year's theme is "Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit," and two Air Force captains provide a good illustration of this theme. Today, the two captains are working as contract managers in the Air Force. Capt. Eric Alonso-Bernal is stationed at Hanscom and his brother, Capt. Edgar Alonso-Bernal, is stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

They began their journey in Mexico City, Mexico. Their father, who was the main supporter of the family, held a good job in sales, while their mom worked as a secretary. They lived a comfortable, middle-class life.

The security they were accustomed to early on in life came to a halt when the young boys were only eight and nine years old. Their father, who had become an alcoholic for the last couple of years, suddenly passed away from a heart attack, leaving the mother and two boys on their own.

This tragedy brought many changes to their lives.

The now single-income family of three suddenly found themselves struggling to make ends meet. Their mother worked three jobs, not just to pay the bills, but also to set aside money for the boys to attend school.

"This (school) was always a major priority for her," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal.

The unconditional love and kindness from their mother would make a significant impact on the boys, but left no extra money to pay for babysitters. The two were often left at home alone to raise themselves.

They walked several miles a day to catch public transportation in order to get back and forth from school, but the challenges didn't end when they got home. Instead of coming home to hit the books, as some children do, they were thrust into the responsibility of maintaining a household.

Through all of their struggles, the boys were able to witness at a very young age the sacrifice their mother made for them.

"We were inspired by the hard work and great attitude our mother showed as a single parent," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal.

When their mom became overwhelmed by the long hours and time away from her sons, she decided to make a change. She and the boys packed up and headed to Piedras Negras, Mexico, to stay with family.

Later, while attending college in Monterrey, Mexico, for a year and a half, the brothers soon learned they wanted more out of life. They wanted to achieve the "American Dream," so they came to the U.S. to strive for this goal.

"We spoke no English, but we had the drive to succeed in a new country, new culture and new language," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal.

With that determination they took jobs as waiters, knowing very little English, and dedicated themselves to learning the language.

They found a program at the local library, which taught a free English class at night. Their instructor knew no Spanish and they knew no English, but were able to learn the language well enough in six months to move on to their next venture. Through family contacts, they were both able to secure jobs as correctional officers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

"It was an interesting experience, but I knew I didn't want to do it for the rest of my life," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal.

Meanwhile, his brother was navigating other options and sought out and joined the Air Force.

"He told me about all of the great benefits the Air Force had to offer and convinced me to join," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal.

After working as a correctional officer for four years, he decided to take his brother's lead and joined the Air Force.

"Both of us were enlisted members in the accounting and finance career field; Edgar was at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, and I was at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama," he said. "While stationed at these locations we both received our citizenship."

The two young men were enjoying Air Force life, but were still focused on their goals ahead. They continued to work hard as enlisted members and were recognized for their efforts by achieving several awards.

Now-Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal continued his education through the bootstrap program to earn a bachelor's degree in business and administration. Upon returning to his duty station he received his master's degree in business and management by attending night classes.

When then-Senior Airman (Eric) Alonso-Bernal felt he achieved his educational goal, he gathered the support of his superiors and applied for Officer Training School. Meanwhile, his brother was completing his bachelor's degree.

As Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal was attending OTS in April, his brother was applying for the OTS program and was able to witness his graduation.

"My brother, who was a staff sergeant at the time, gave me my first salute," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal, "and the great news that he was going to OTS."

The dynamic duo met up again at the next OTS graduation.

"I had the pleasure to commission my brother November 10, 2004," said Captain (Eric) Alonso-Bernal. "We are truly living our 'American Dream.'"

Just as these two captains are contributing by serving the country in the military, there are many other Hispanic Americans doing the same in their own way enriching the culture and way of life with "Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit."

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by Staff Sgt. Kristin Mack in 2005. It has been updated by Capt. Eric Alonso-Bernal. Captain Alonso-Bernal, who has been at Hanscom since May 2011, works as a contract manager for the Battle Management Directorate's Aerial Ground Surveillance Systems Division.

Hispanic Heritage Month events
Sept. 21, 6-7 p.m.: Dance lessons, featuring different genre each week (salsa, merengue and bachata) at the Minuteman Commons in the Concord Room.

Sept. 30: Hispanic Heritage Month committee will sell Mexican hot chocolate and churros during Oktoberfest.

Oct. 5, 10:15-11 a.m.: Educate the preschool youth at the base library in Hispanic Heritage through literature.

Oct. 5, 6-7 p.m.: Dance lessons, featuring different genre each week (salsa, merengue and bachata) at the Minuteman Commons in the Musket Room.

Oct. 6, 5:30 to 9 p.m.: Children's Fiesta - educational activities at the ballroom at the Minuteman Commons. Activities include Hispanic-themed kids' movie, reading, crafts (maracas), piñatas and more.

Oct. 8: Hispanic Heritage Month-themed menu, music and games at Hanscom Lanes throughout the day.

Oct. 12, 6-7 p.m.: Dance lessons, featuring different genre each week (salsa, merengue and bachata) at the Minuteman Commons in the Musket Room.

Oct. 13, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Grand Finale luncheon at the Minuteman Commons ballroom with guest speaker, entertainment and prizes.