JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
“I was born in Monterrey, Mexico,” said Ismael Lopez. “My hometown is Villaldalma, Nuevo Leon.”
It has been quite a journey to get to where he is now, from his hometown to a new life in America.
Villaldalma is a small community in northern Mexico – so small it does not even have its own hospital. Everybody from Villaldalma is born in Monterrey, Lopez said. But what it doesn’t have in healthcare, it makes up for in food and culture.
“It is a beautiful small town in Mexico, located three hours down south of the Laredo border, with a population of 4,247 people,” Lopez said. “The town is famous for its number of good bakeries, which still use traditional stone ovens where you can buy empanadas, hojarascas, and coyotas, among other pieces of bread.”
Lopez grew up in the quaint town and transitioned from kindergarten through college, which he finished at age twenty-two. He graduated from law school at the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon but was unable to find a job or develop his skills locally.
So, in 2007, he moved to the United States to look for more opportunities and to pursue his master’s degree in law, which was one of his long-term goals.
“Here in the USA, I did plenty of jobs in the construction field until I learned English,” he said.
The language itself was the most challenging part of immigrating to America, according to Lopez.
“Sometimes people are scared to try new things, like learning a new language, especially at an adult age of 22,” he said. “English was challenging to me because I was feeling nervous at the beginning to talk in front of people, but at the end of the day, the resilience that I learned from the Army helped me to overcome my fears.”
In 2012, Lopez joined the Army as an active duty Soldier and spent three years at the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he was a logistical specialist.
“I joined the Army because I wanted to serve and give back to this country for the many opportunities that it gave me when I arrived with just a bag full of dreams,” Lopez said.
In 2016, he joined the Army Reserve, where he now supports the 549th Military Intelligence Battalion, collecting, analyzing, and evaluating information from a variety of database resources as an intelligence analyst.
Lopez is also working as a government civilian logistics management specialist on Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis. As an LMS, he supports three U.S. Army companies for logistical requirements, reports, and major equipment redistribution. As property book manager, he briefs the brigade on the battalion's equipment maintenance readiness.
Although he has become a naturalized American citizen, Lopez has not abandoned his Hispanic heritage. In a state like Texas, it is easy for him to maintain his sense of his culture.
“Here in San Antonio, there is a huge Hispanic community that always promotes celebrations with parades, music, and historical representation events that help preserve the culture through the new generations,” he said. “Celebrating traditions, sharing customs with friends from different backgrounds, and teaching my children about our Hispanic roots are some of the things that help us maintain a sense of our culture.”
Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off Sept. 15, and that night, Lopez and his family commemorated Mexican Independence Day.
“We like to see the celebration on television that consists of ringing the bells of the town councils around Mexico, recalling the historical fact of independence that began in the same way in 1810,” he said. “We like to cook Mexican food, make horchata water, and enjoy the celebration with the family at home.”
For people who are not Hispanic, but want to learn about Hispanic culture and celebrate with them, Lopez recommends learning their history and customs by visiting museums and learning the differences between many of their festivities, including the fact that Cinco de Mayo is not the same thing as Independence Day.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican army’s victory over invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexican Independence Day celebrates Mexican emancipation from 300 years of Spanish rule as well as redistribution of land and greater racial equality.