Hispanic and Latinx youth are the fastest growing group entering the military today. It’s one of the few institutions offering a viable safety net and a host of benefits to this marginalized community, enticing many to sign up for service — even knowing the potential life cost involved. Despite the growing numbers, Latinos and their families are still overlooked when it comes to simply laying out the resources available to them.
As a Hispanic military spouse of 26 years, I understand the struggles faced by those in my position or similar. Many military families are first or second generation community members who are just beginning to navigate American society and are facing the challenges of cultural barriers, especially when it comes to language. It starts with the military itself: Latinos make up only 8% of Officer Corps, and 2% of general/flag officers. These positions require college degrees, which have historically been harder to attain due to this barrier, in addition to economic inequality.
I was born and raised in Cidra, a small town in Puerto Rico. From childhood, I was taught to serve others when there was a need. So in 2007, I saw an opportunity to support other Hispanic/Latinx military families and founded Esposas Militares Hispanas USA, a Facebook group turned nonprofit, with the goal of helping to amplify the voices of these families that are often left behind by this system. In doing so, our network provides educational resources to get past these barriers and helps fill in these support gaps, while pushing the military to do the same.
As a military spouse, the struggle of feeling isolated is close to my heart. It is hard to move and leave everything behind — friends, careers, and a community. We often have to start all over again.
When my husband joined the military, I was alone. It was him, the baby, and me — and at times just the baby and me. I was always worried about how my accent and not knowing perfect English was going to affect my next move. I volunteered in every way I could to be involved, find friends, and practice my English. Not everyone is an extrovert like me, so it was very sad to see how many other spouses with language barriers were alone. In every base, in every military community, this is something I would encounter. I felt I was the magnet to unify this community. I felt that maybe a coffee, a hello, a compliment could alleviate that isolation. As a military spouse, we unfortunately learn to be alone and how important it is to be independent and ready for unexpected change, but that doesn’t work well when there are language barriers.
These are just a few obstacles that drive my mission in Esposas Militares Hispanas.
We take the phrase “no man left behind” as seriously as our spouses, carrying a fierce commitment to ensuring military families with language and cultural barriers are aware of the education, advocacy programs, and resources at their disposal. Our volunteers are military spouses that want to give back to their own community. As we empower to grow professionally and personally and share our experiences, volunteers are the force of our organization — without them, Esposas Militares Hispanas USA is not possible.
I’m proud to say that in the 15 years since Esposas Militares Hispanas started, we have provided educational programs, financial and employment readiness resources, community connections, and support groups to aid in the integration of its members into the larger military community. The connections we’ve built through the group have helped other spouses realize they are not alone in this journey and that they have a community to turn to, regardless of where the next move may take them. We’ve been able to help relieve the feelings of isolation that our community has faced for decades, while also working to bring equitable resources for the betterment of our families.
Esposas Militares Hispanas has been a strong force in mitigating the strife faced by our spouses in service and their families — and we’re happy to be part of this positive movement. However, our impact is small compared to what the military itself can do for our entire community with just a few small policy adjustments. It’s my hope that in connecting these families through Esposas Militares Hispanas, our voices can finally be heard.
Janet’s work is part of this year’s Facebook Community Accelerator Program. Janet now lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband who is retired from the Army after 25 years of service. In her free time, you may find her spending time with family, baking, and dancing.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times senior managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.