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Unscrambling and correctly spelling a list of Hispanic countries as well as labeling flags for each one tests the knowledge of those attending the Hispanic Heritage Month Luncheon at the Town and Country Restaurant Grand Ballroom, Sept. 25.

Photo by Nathan L. Hanks Jr.

Cultural diversity: Marine shares life experiences as Mexican-American

15 Oct 2014 | Nathan L. Hanks Jr. Marine Corps Installations East

Latino music and the aroma of Hispanic food filled the Town and Country Restaurant Grand Ballroom as attendees celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month during a luncheon at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Sept. 25.

More than 50 Marines, Sailors and civilian-Marines sampled an assortment of ethnic food during the celebration themed, “Hispanics: A legacy of history, a present of action and a future of success.”

Unscrambling and correctly spelling a list of Hispanic countries and labeling flags for each Hispanic country provided entertainment, testing the knowledge of those in attendance.

Guest speaker Master Sgt. Alejandra Medina, retail chief, Marine Corps Exchange, Marine Corps Community Services, MCLB Albany, shared her life as an Mexican-American through a poetic slide presentation and one of her favorite country music songs, “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert, an American country music artist.

Like Lambert’s song, Medina talked about the home she grew up in and the memories she built with her family. Through a poem, she introduced each family member and described how they impacted her life, ending with “they are the house that builds me.”

Medina reflected on “how fortunate we all are to be part of this great nation, which is made up of so many different races, ethnicities and cultures from all over the world. This, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons why America is one of the greatest nations in the world.”

Although she witnessed many contributions from her Latino brothers and sisters, Medina said two people stand out:  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Cesar E. Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

According to Medina, Chavez fought for human rights and farm workers’ rights on the West Coast while Sotomayor fought for equality in education on the East Coast.

Medina was born in California’s Central Valley among grapevines, tomato fields and almond trees. Her parents, immigrants from Mexico, had little to no real opportunities, she admitted. Growing up, she and her family woke up most mornings at 4 a.m. to catch a van that would take them to whatever fruit or vegetable field was in season.

“My summers were filled with grape and strawberry picking and the occasional punishment from my parents after finding out that I ate more than I picked,” Medina said. “Those were tough, but valuable times. The hard work taught us the value of things, not just their price.”

In 1982, Medina’s family started working with Chavez and soon started marching for migrant rights and boycotting unfair and unsafe field working conditions.

“Looking back, I consider myself honored to have witnessed firsthand Chavez’s legacy as an educator, environmentalist and a civil rights leader,” she said. “(He) taught me and many others to fight for equality and to seek progress and prosperity not just for myself but for my nation.”

During her speech, Medina said she will remember Chavez as the man who helped reunite her family.

“When my sister and I were born, my parents sent us to Mexico to live with my older brother and sisters,” she said. “At the age of six, my parents decided to bring us back to the U.S. so that we could get an American education. Six more years would pass before I would get to see my brothers and sisters who I left behind in Mexico; six years of wondering if I would ever see them again.

“It wasn’t long after we joined the United Farm Workers of America that Cesar Chavez had all of us living under one roof,” she said. “All that mattered to me was that we were once again together and building good memories.”

It was Chavez’s influence that led Medina to join the Corps because she believed she could make a difference at local, national and global levels.

 At the end of her speech, Medina shared one of her most memorable and cherished moments of her life, the day she was promoted to her current rank.

While playing a video of her sisters pinning on her  rank, Medina read a poem she wrote entitled, “Master Sergeant,” vowing to do the rank justice and be a good mentor, leader and adviser.

“It was important for me to get to this rank,” Medina expressed. “It was important because it was the rank I never thought I would see in my Marine Corps career and to know that the possibility was there made me want it even more.”

Latreesa B. Perryman, school liaison, Family Care Branch, MCLB Albany, who attended the luncheon, said it is important to continue to learn about other cultures.

“Culture competence is important and necessary in our everyday lives at work, at home, in our schools, community and our social lives,” Perryman said. “When you learn about other cultures, you learn more about their perspectives about life, what they have to cope with and their important values.

“I thoroughly enjoyed (Master Sergeant) Medina’s speech as she shared with us ‘the house that (built me),’” she said. “She gave us some insight of all that her family endured, yet they continued to instill good work ethics, dedication and perseverance in her and her siblings when they were young.”