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NEWS | Sept. 18, 2020

Hispanic Heritage Month: IAAFA Airman shares heritage, encourages cultural cooperation

By Rachel Kersey 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Tech. Sgt. Alejandra Avila will celebrate her ninth year in the Air Force Sept. 27, right in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month.  

“I am assigned as a Security Forces instructor at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy. However, about two weeks ago, I was moved to work as the executive officer for the academy’s commandant,” she said.  

The new job at IAAFA allows Avila to incorporate the Hispanic culture into her daily life seamlessly. 

The IAAFA, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, partners with South and Central American nations to provide military education and training to ensure strong friendships and security cooperation across the Western Hemisphere. As a result, many of the courses are taught in Spanish. 

"With this new job, I’m able to speak my native tongue every day with my students and coworkers,” Avila said.  

Born in Monterrey — a huge city surrounded by mountains in Nuevo Leon, Mexico — from a young age, Avila’s life has been one of transition and growth. At the age of six, she left her hometown of Matamoros and moved to Reynosa, where she attended a private school and made new friends.  

“I would walk a couple of blocks to go to the ‘tienda,’ which is a little store in the neighborhood. I’d spend countless hours playing arcade games there with the neighborhood kids,” she said. “There was also a big park in the middle of the community I lived in, so I would constantly walk over with my neighbor and spend the day there.” 

Four years later, her family moved to the United States. They settled in Pharr, Texas, and she encountered some of the biggest obstacles in the immigrant experience.  

“When I was little, I did not know any English,” she said. “Moving to the U.S. was a culture shock! Leaving everything behind was not easy. By far, it has been the biggest challenge I have faced in my life.”   

After being placed back a grade due to language proficiency, one of Avila’s teachers spent a lot of time helping her learn English, she said.  

After completing her education in the U.S., Avila joined the U.S. Air Force to give back to a country that gave her family so much.  

Nearly a decade into her service, she is satisfied with her career journey. 

“It has been amazing! I feel I have done a lot in the short time I have been in,” she said. “I started as a gate guard, then moved up to patrol. Then, I was assigned to a unit in Belgium where I provided security for U.S. assets. I also worked as a corrections specialist at the jail on base.” 

Next, Avila moved to be an instructor for military members of partner nations in Central and South America, and the Caribbean, she said.  

In keeping with her upward trajectory, she was promoted to her new position at the Inter-American Air Forces Academy. 

“Now I’m the executive at the academy,” she said. “There has not been a time in my career where I am not learning something new.” 

During Hispanic Heritage Month, Avila continues to be an advocate for Americans learning new things and experiencing her culture, just like she has experienced theirs, she said, suggesting travel as a way to see other people and cultures firsthand. 

“Too often, I feel we (Hispanics) all get lumped in a category of one. But that is not the case,” she explained. “Mexicans are so different from Colombians. Dominicans are so different from Chileans. Panamanians are so different from Argentinians. Yes, we are all Hispanic, but we don’t share the same food, music, culture …  we don’t even share the same Spanish dialect.”