Latina Letters From the Front: Los Dichos de Mi Madre

By Captain Marlene Rivera, USAF Intel Weapons Instructor

My father is the reason I joined the Air Force. He retired in 2010 after serving 30 years in the United States Army and I am forever grateful for the opportunities he created for my brothers and me. It is his steady, objective demeanor I attempt to emulate when faced with difficult situations. He is my inspiration for serving in the Armed Forces, but, like most Latinas, the bond I have with mi mamá is second to none. My mother has always been the backbone of our family and it is because of her [tough] love, confidence, and strength that I am the woman I am today. “Anything goes.” Those were the rules I was given when I was approached about writing this article so I decided to share how I have applied two of mi mamá’s dichos to my life and career.

The Rivera Family in June 2018. (L-R) (Back row) Captain Gabriel Rivera (USAF), Captain Rachel Rivera (USAF) holding Alvaro Rivera, Captain Marlene Rivera (USAF), Jacqueline Rivera, Sergeant Major Juan Rivera (USA Retired), Major Shayla Rivera (USA), Major Juan Rivera (USA), (front row) Ezra Rivera, Elias Rivera.

1. “Es mejor estar sola que mal acompañada.” It is better to be alone than in bad company. Those words were not easily heard or comprehended by the insecure, young girl desperately trying to fit in after every move our family made while my father was in the military. The older I got, though, the more meaningful they became. In college, her advice gave me the courage to distance myself from people who were making questionable life choices. That advice has shaped my decision-making process about who will be an acquaintance versus a friend and which relationships I should invest in from the moment I arrived at my first duty station. I learned some tough lessons in my twenties but today I am proud to call an incredible group of people in my life – “my Air Force family” who support me through the tough times and are the first in line to celebrate my successes.

Capt. Marlene Rivera in front of an F-15 painted to honor the memory of those killed on 1 Oct 2017 in Las Vegas, NV.

2. “¡No te estoy gritando y no estoy enojada!” I’m not yelling at you and I’m not mad! The first thing people notice about me is that my voice carries and the look on my face says it all. I have earned the callsign “Rage” and despite my career field’s tendency to turn nicknames into acronyms, mine doesn’t stand for anything; it was intended to be a concise description of Captain Rivera. I was fortunate enough to have my first supervisor tell me my “passion” was contagious but quickly follow it up with techniques to ensure some tact went along with it! That was exactly the kind of mentorship I needed to keep my personality traits from becoming a liability. Four years later, at my Weapons School graduation, my squadron commander said “Rage” had become synonymous with “emotion and devotion.” My mom taught me to be proud of my loud personality and the military taught me how to adapt, not change, in order to conquer any challenge I encounter.

Captain Juan Rivera (USA), Lieutenant Gabriel Rivera (USAF), Captain Marlene Rivera (USAF), and Sergeant Major Juan Rivera (USA Retired) celebrate Marlene’s graduation from the USAF Weapons School in June 2016.

At work, I often find myself the only woman in the room and one of few, if not the only Latina in organizations of hundreds of people. There have been obstacles I had to overcome as a Latina servicemember in the U.S. today, however, my parents taught me to be unapologetically Puertorriqueña and the professionals I work with empower me to view my ethnicity as a source of strength that makes me a valuable member of any team I am a part of.

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