College Beat: Latina Identity, Heritage, and Culture – By Sofia Ciro
Latina Identity, Heritage, and Culture
Defining a personal and professional branding.
By Sofia Ciro
Culture, Literacy and Language
The University of Texas at San Antonio
Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies
Active Duty Officer, U.S. Air Force
As a Latina in the U.S., I have developed a unique identity and broaden my perspectives. However, it was when I decided to polish my personal and professional branding, by capitalizing on my heritage, that I realized that marketing my culture, language skills, and myself as Latina, has a significant value towards the way I pursue an education and professional opportunities.
I was born in Colombia; both my mother and father have dual citizenship U.S. and Colombian. I spent my childhood in Colombia, and at age 14, my family and I permanently relocated to Miami Florida. After graduating from high school, I joined the U.S. Air Force. During my early years of military service, I found myself either being the only woman in the room or the only Latina amongst the small groups of servicewomen. After my first four years in the enlisted corps, I was awarded an academic scholarship to commission in the officer corps.
As I continue to serve, and after 20 years of military service, the only thing that has noticeably changed is that there are slightly more women in service, and more Latinos in the military.
Nevertheless, I still find myself to be the only Latina in the room. For a number of years, I witnessed how military women, more often than our military male counterparts, transition into civilian life as a way to not only pursue an education, but to also mitigate raising a family without having to bear the additional demands associated with fulfilling rigorous military commitments. For these reasons, I became even more determined to counter these challenges by pursuing an education, not as a way to be more competitive, but as a way to capitalize on my heritage. Therefore, I asked myself, how can the U.S. Air Force benefit from my heritage, culture, language skills, and essentially from me being Latina. I looked for all available options that the military offered. I was confident that I would stand out and be recognized as Latina. I was determined to exploit my culture and language skills towards growing the U.S. Air Force’s Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture enterprise. The moment I built my personal and professional branding by capitalizing on my heritage, my Latina identity flourished.
My cultural and language skills continuously play a rewarding function leading and mentoring diverse young men and women serving and aspiring to join the military. Placing myself as Latina at the core of my personal and professional branding led me to an opportunity I did not plan, nor I aspired. As I approached retirement eligibility, I was unexpectedly, yet highly competitively selected as an Air Force Institute of Technology military-sponsored student. It was an opportunity I could not pass.
Today, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Culture, Literacy, and Language at the University of Texas in San Antonio. After completing my Ph.D., I will join the U.S. Air Force Academy faculty as a Spanish language professor. I share this to illustrate how I found unique opportunities that resulted from placing my Latina identity at the heart of my personal and professional branding. As Latinas, our personal and professional branding has a tremendous value. Our branding showcases our heritage, culture, and commitment to cultivate opportunities and empower generations of Latina leaders in our families, communities, and our nation.
Sofia in-transit to Afghanistan aboard a C-17 Globemaster, 2013.
Sofia and her family attending U.S. Air Force Academy 2019 graduation. (Left to right) Sofia, Emily (daughter age 5), Cannon (son age 12) Daniel, spouse. U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado, 2019.
Childhood in Colombia with grandparents Fabio and Nimia. Sofia, age 7 (left) and sister Juliana, age 5 (right). Colombia, 1994.