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Travis Airman moves from Juárez, pursues opportunity in US

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christian Conrad
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.—Ask Airman 1st Class Adrián Gómez where his home is and you might get two answers.

Gómez moved from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas, when he was 15, joining the U.S. Air Force from high school when he was 18. In the time he’s been in the service, his dedication has positioned him as a vital member of both his base’s mission and, on a larger scale, the immigrant population who have volunteered to take up the title of “Airman.”

Gómez is a precision measurement equipment laboratory technician with the 60th Maintenance Squadron, a job well-suited as a bridge between his role in the Air Force and his longer-term pursuit of acquiring a doctorate in nuclear physics.

Back in his Juárez, though, the opportunity to pursue a higher education wasn’t an option.

“The main reason (I came to the United States) was that I didn’t have the chance of continuing to study in a private school in Mexico,” said Gómez. “Since I wasn’t able to continue my studies there, my parents saw the chance of sending me to the U.S. so that I could do and choose what I wanted with my life.”

In addition to the limitations Gómez experienced academically, living in Juárez, a city where a reported 23,000 homicides occurred in 2016 according to the Council of Foreign Affairs, put him in a near-constant state of danger.

“Growing up in (Juárez), you don’t really think about the disorder, injustice and corruption as something irregular or impossible to happen because you see it every day,” said Gómez. “Either you live it or you see it in the media. By that, I don’t mean the concept of death is normal, but rather, it is an event that happens often. Nobody really realizes how present the violence is until someone in your family suffers from them.”

For Gómez, that realization came early in his life when tragedy struck close to home.

“One of the experiences that encapsulates my life in Juárez is the day that a sicario (hitman) murdered my grandfather,” said Gómez. “Sadly, that is one of the events that encapsulates my time there. Even if the city has positive things such as warm people, a sense of pride and the fact it’s where I grew up, the idea of living in Juárez faded away after that moment.”

It wasn’t long after that Gómez moved across the U.S.-Mexican border into El Paso. Chasing a brighter future, Gómez, then only 15, encountered an entirely new type of barrier to overcome. Having lived in Mexico during his formative years, Gómez’s pronunciation of certain English words led to some difficulty when trying to communicate with his peers.

“The fact that I have an accent, a clearly noticeable one at that, has been one of the issues I’ve had,” said Gómez. “The most common circumstance I find whenever I go to a new place is that some people don’t recognize or know my accent. This leads to them thinking I’m making fun of them, so they act in a not very gentle way.”

According to a report by Human Rights First, hate crimes associated with xenophobia, or the intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries, are on the rise. For Gómez, the instinct some people feel to alienate others represents an opportunity to teach, not hate.

“I don’t blame them for their way of thinking because it’s just ignorance of other cultures or fear of what’s different,” said Gómez. “So I’ve tried sharing my culture with them. When people come to know each other better and take the time to understand where each other are coming from, that ignorance and way of thinking usually disappears.”

In his shop, Gómez experiences similar adversity, though through the lens of a much more accepting populace.

Gomez says those he’s met in the Air Force are typically more understanding and open to people of different cultures than those he’s met in the civilian world. A correlation that his supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Lockwood, 60th MXS waveform analysis non-commissioned officer in charge, attributes to the Air Force’s large number of Airmen who have emigrated from other countries.

“The Air Force is a total force,” said Lockwood. “We’re made up of a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds, and that speaks to our strength.”

For Lockwood, the Air Force’s culture is one that fosters mutual strength, not weakness. It’s an ethos Lockwood has worked to nurture in the 60th MXS.

“I can tell sometimes there’s a language barrier between (Gómez) and the other Airmen in our shop,” said Lockwood. “But they always take the time in understanding what it is Gómez needs and help him in any way they can. I’m proud of the support my Airmen provide for one another and, by extension, the mission.”

Despite the perils and sacrifices Gómez has experienced, he said he’s hopeful for the future, and he hopes those who are apprehensive in following his footsteps feel emboldened by his experiences and might commit themselves to being everything they wish to be.

“I feel lucky to now have the opportunity to be whatever I want, and that’s an opportunity I get to have every day,” said Gómez. “Your life is only ever going to be elevated up to the point where you personally raise it to. As cliché as it may sound, the saying still holds true: the sky is the limit.”

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