Latina Letters From the Front!
By Staff Sergeant Liz K. Hensel, United States Marine Corps
My family immigrated to the United States from Peru when I was three years old. I called Queens, New York, home until I was 13 years old. I had a front-row seat to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. I can clearly remember the next day, stepping outside and being surrounded by debris from the Twin Towers. That moment was pivotal for me. My decision to enlist in the military was made at that point, but I wasn’t sure which branch to choose.
Growing up in a Peruvian household, my family ensured that I retained my Peruvian roots. Ensuring I was familiar with our culture’s history, how to cook our traditional meals, and our traditional dances. I kept true to that throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Going to college was my mother’s dream for me. Which I eventually accomplished; however, I took a detour by joining the Marine Corps. I chose to attend high school in Cleveland, Ohio, which had a sizable Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Program. We were listening to our current events in my NJROTC class on a Friday. The newscaster was telling us how Cpl Jason Dunham was being considered for the Medal of Honor, which he was eventually awarded. They described his action, that without hesitation, he took off his kevlar and threw it on top of a grenade, and used his body to shield his Marines from impact. His selfless action is why I chose the Marine Corps. I had to be a part of an organization whose team members would not hesitate to protect me because I knew I would do the same.
In December of 2006, I would find myself on the yellow footprints of Parris Island, South Carolina. When I graduated from BootCamp, my entire family came. It was the first time in my life I saw my father cry. This Peruvian man, who left everything he knew behind to give me a better life, was so proud of me.
The Marine Corps life has taken me all over the world and all over the United States. I deployed to Afghanistan and witnessed a group of Marines get citizenship in the sands of Kandahar. It was pretty impactful. These Marines were putting their lives on the line and weren’t even American citizens.
I am currently attending graduate school for a doctorate in acupuncture. I am married to a Marine and have two daughters and two dogs. I started a nonprofit organization called Leave No Paws Behind USA, in which we advocate to have pet relocation fees included in military moves. The President signed our bill in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, so yes, this Peruvian immigrant woman passed legislation!
My parents taught me that it was perfectly fine to be proud to be Peruvian AND American. As a mother, I teach the same lesson to my daughters. I love being an American, which is why I continue to serve my country.
I love being Peruvian and will always take the opportunity to share and educate others on the rich history and culture of my motherland.