Hispanic Heritage Month: A wealth of traditions

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rose Gudex
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Every Airman's uniform says "U.S. Air Force" on a patch above the left pocket, over the heart. The right side has the Airman’s last name, showing they are an individual with a story of where they came from.

Senior Airman Andrea Londoño, from the command support staff for the 4th Manpower Requirement Squadron attached to Air Force Manpower Requirements Determination Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, was born and raised in the Central Valley of California. Her father is from Colombia, while her mother is from Mexico. To develop a better understanding of her heritage, Londoño has visited both Colombia and Mexico several times.

While she grew up learning English and American customs and traditions, she learned about her Colombian and Mexican heritage from her parents and was raised in their cultures and faith. She reveled in them.

"The great thing is, of course, learning to speak two languages at once," Londoño said. "That was very important to my parents."

Another thing very important in her family was respect, particularly respect for elders.

"You don't talk back and the way you address them (is respectful)," she said. "I noticed that's huge in both (Colombia and Mexico). You don't see kids talking back, but rather obedience, which you don't see a lot of here."

In line with respect for elders, Londoño said rarely are retirement homes seen in either country. With family being such a key part of her parents’ cultures, elders often go back to live with their children and are taken care of by their families.

A benefit of having the whole family together is celebrating holidays together, Londoño said. Her family celebrates Christmas the night before the actual holiday, unlike the typical American tradition of getting up early Christmas morning to open presents.

Following close behind is a New Year's tradition from many Hispanic cultures, including both Mexico and Colombia, in which each person eats 12 grapes at midnight for good luck -- one grape for each month of the year.

Colombia has even more specific traditions to bring prosperity in the New Year, which Londoño has not experienced, but recalls her father describing.

To bring wealth and prosperity, one would make sure to wear yellow undergarments as the New Year tolls. In addition, they had to run fast out the front door and around the house with a suitcase in tow to ensure plenty of travel for the coming year.

The Hispanic culture is so rich, Londoño said. There always seem to be what she calls "festive days."

"When I was there, it seemed like every week was a festive week," she said. "Monday would be a parade or something was going on. There are a lot of festivities. We celebrate everything."

Part of the festivities is the amazing food, which Londoño said is the best part of Hispanic culture. She said it is so delicious because it is always fresh.

"I don't remember seeing a microwave when I was in South America," she said. "Everything was fresh -- go get the cow, veggies, and cook the food."

Another important difference in the culture is the attire and their accessories. Londoño described the items important to her heritage.

"They look like ponchos, but in Colombia they're called ruanas," she said. "Certain authentic purses -- to this day, those are still my purses -- bracelets, and anything with a flag."

In addition to the tangible differences between Hispanic and American cultures, Londoño said the biggest trait she developed because of her heritage is discipline and a good work ethic.

"(I see how) self-disciplined people are and how respectful they are and how educated," she said. "Everyone is a professional, it seems like."

To do that very thing and become a professional, Londoño spent a few years chasing a couple dreams after high school. While first pursuing a soccer scholarship and then an associate's degree in criminal justice, which she earned, military service was always in the back of her mind.

"My grandpa was actually a command chief in the Colombian army," she said. "That's where his strict discipline came in with his kids -- my dad, my aunts and uncles -- which then of course carried on to us, my sister and me."

Ultimately, her grandfather's military service, combined with other family and friends in the military, pushed her to want the same thing. After considering it for a long time, Londoño decided the Air Force was for her.

After joining, she said the best part of being a Hispanic Airman is being different.

"I like being different. I like not fitting in. I live being able to bring something else to the table," she said.

Even though she didn't grow up in either Mexico or Colombia, Londoño is proud to be a Hispanic American because her parents instilled in her the heritage from each country.

"It's such a privilege and an honor," she said. "I'm very proud."