I am so excited to introduce one of my dear friends and mentors, Lilia Ramirez. Lilia is a Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy Commander. I have had the pleasure of working for Lilia as she continued to serve our country beyond her military career. She has graciously shared her story here:
In a previous post, Rev. Jorge Prado mentioned the rapid growth of the Hispanic populations, noting is it faster than any previous immigrant group. How do you think the increasing Hispanic growth in America will change the fabric of our nation?
We must analyze information before making general assumptions about the growth trend of the Hispanic population in America. First, the Hispanic population is very diverse. It represents a population of people coming from an entire continent that includes many diverse countries in Central and Latin America, and of course Spain and Portugal. Immigration from specific countries is quite diverse. For example, I would purposely look at the waves of immigration from specific countries like El Salvador, Cuba and Mexico where many large communities of Hispanics immigrate from. Further analysis should include the following considerations at the very minimum:
1. Education levels achieved of these pockets of Hispanic populations before and after immigrating to the U.S.
2. Poverty levels of immigrants and 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics
3. Impact of gang and crime in these population groups
4. Identify and determine whether Hispanics in these pockets of immigrants are practicing their self-described faith
5. Impact of single parent households
6. Impact of teen pregnancy
Can you please tell us a little about your life’s story?
My story is such that my parents, in their mid-30s, decided that living in Colombia, South America had become too dangerous to raise a family. My grandfather had been kidnapped in an area called Miraflores and was never found. My parents feared that their lives and the lives of their children would also be threatened. They dutifully applied for their visas and waited many months for approval. After receiving the visas, my parents and three children (including myself) immigrated to New York in the early ’60s and started a new life.
It certainly was not easy. My mom and dad had to begin work on a very fundamental level as janitors and dishwashers before they could rise again to the professions they earned in Colombia. In Colombia, my dad had been an accountant and my mom a bookkeeper. Learning English was very challenging for my entire family, especially when my parents tried to keep the Colombian culture and Spanish language alive in our household.
My parents applied for U.S. citizenship and were approved. I, too, became a naturalized citizen. My parents took pride in being able to navigate through this process. They wanted to be legitimate citizens of this great country. They raised my siblings and me to respect the rule of law and to properly follow these principles. Consequently, I have learned the value of being diligent and earning my keep. I was raised to work hard and to become independent of hand outs. I was also raised with a great appreciation for education. In my educational pursuit, and in an effort to become independent (so as not to depend on my parents financially), I applied and was accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy and in 1981, graduated in the second class of women from this prestigious institution. My parents did not raise me to expect special treatment for being Hispanic. In fact, it was understood that I had to work harder. I completed a career in the Navy and retired as a Commander.
What role has your Christian faith played in these major life transitions?
I was raised as a Roman Catholic and became Protestant while attending the Protestant service at the Naval Academy. I am now a Presbyterian and find that my cultural roots are very much in line with my faith. In my Colombian upbringing, the family unit is very important. Traditional marriage between a man and woman is celebrated and it was understood that the marriage union is permanent. Children are also very important in my culture and faith. So it is safe to say that the values of my faith and the values I learned from my Colombian upbringing were very much aligned.
I married a fellow Naval Officer and a man whose heritage is from Norway and Germany. My husband and I raised our daughter and son to appreciate both of our ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In fact, both of our children have learned Spanish and studied it extensively in school. This was a priority for my husband and me. The direction my children will take when they marry and have children of their own is unknown. My hope is that they would see the goodness of passing down the Colombian, Norwegian and German heritage so that they can celebrate these traditions with their children.
What is your Christian worldview concerning American ideals in regards to ethic and cultural diversity in this country?
This country is, and should continue to be, a melting pot where ultimately all the immigrants end up mixing with other cultures as Americans.
In conclusion, it is liberating when people respect the rule of law. Proper respect yields to trust and obedience: An immigrant trusts his or her future in the hands of the United States and out of gratitude obeys the rule of law which exists to protect and uphold the very reasons why America is so attractive to immigrants in the first place! Trust and obedience is also what God calls us to do out of His abundant love for us. We live in gratitude and obedience for what He has done for us. There is no country on earth that is as generous and free as the United States, especially when it comes to religious freedom. For this life and experiences, I am grateful.
© Lilia Ramirez and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012