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Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month starts on September 15 and runs through October 15! During this month-long period we are reviewing the history and contributions of the Hispanic communities, as well as highlighting a few deserving members of this group from RAF Lakenheath's own community! 


Split over two months to encompass many Latin American countries' independence days, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua kick off the month by all celebrating their independence on September 15. Mexico celebrates theirs on September 16, while Chile's is on September 18 and Belize's is on September 21.¹

The first federal celebration of Hispanic heritage took place for a week in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was expanded into the month-long observance we have now under President Ronald Reagan in 1988, with President George H. W. Bush becoming the first president to declare the 31-day period from September 15 to October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month a year later in 1989.² 

Over the last decade, Hispanics and Latinos have played a major role in driving U.S. population growth, making up one-fifth of the United States as of 2021. The month-long observation allows for our nation to celebrate the achievements and culture of the many different individuals who identify as Hispanic and/or Latino, including over 15% of the Air Force's Active Duty personnel.³


Local Spotlights

Each Friday during the month, we'll be highlighting members who are a part of our very own RAF Lakenheath community! Keep an eye out on our social media - and add this page your bookmarks - for the next individual's story!

SrA Aaron Puga & Sandra Leticia Puga

Cultural Background:
Aaron was born in Louisville, KY USA. Parents born in Monterrey Nuevo Leon, Mexico Sandra was born in Matehuala San Luis Potosi, Mexico Aaron Joined the USAF in 2019, married Sandra in Matehuala in Dec 2021.

Tell us about something from your culture that you wish was more widely known or practiced:
"Mexican culture more than food and music, as a society the Mexican culture is more about creating a personal tradition and maintaining a strong family connection. Rather that is playing so kind of sports or cooking platters together, in some shape or form the culture is about being with each other in the moments rather good or bad."

Favorite memory?
"Hosting Latin Fest and visually seeing the impact of our community. By either feeding people food, having kids play games, and connecting people and opening up lines of communication to other people." 

TSgt Manuel A Gonzalez

Cultural Background
Born in Hollywood, Florida. My father was Domingo Gonzalez, born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. My Mother is Mirna Vara, born in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Tell us about something from your culture that you wish was more widely known/practiced.
Ecuadorians practice something called "Anos Viejos". Anos Viejos are life=sized dummies made from old clothes, paper, and other materials. These dummies are created to represent the negative events, energies, or aspects of the past year. At midnight, for New Years, these dummies are set on fire, symbolizing the act of letting go of the old and welcoming the new. It's a way for people to metaphorically rid themselves o fthe past years challenges and start fresh in the coming year.

How have you incorporated your culture into your time overseas at this base?
Because of my culture background, I decided to join the Hispanic Organization of Latin Americas to surround myself with more people who share similar customs. When I travel around England, I always look up Spanish themed restaurants to see what I can order to feel like I'm home.

Anything you would like to have shared. This could be a story, an event you'd like to be shared, a food recipe, a fun fact about yourself, etc.
Fun Fact: My father's parents moved to Puerto Rico from Spain. I've submitted my DNA to Ancestry and the majority of my DNA is 23% Spaniard, 20% indigenous Ecuadorian, and 17% Portuguese. 

SSgt Reyna Bonita Velasco

Cultural Background
I am the first generation, both parents are Mexican (mom born in Guadalajara, JA, and father in Calvillo, AG) and I was born in Oklahoma City, OK. However, I was raised from ages 7 – 18 in Chihuahua, MX, so I had the opportunity to learn the language first-hand, experience school and enjoy the culture from a different standpoint. In 2015, my family and I returned to the US, and in 2017, I joined the Air Force.

Tell us about something from your culture that you wish was more widely known/practiced.
Besides how to make the great food that most people I know love, something I wish that was more known/practiced are folkloric dances. It's something that celebrates the people, culture, and history, all while having fun. I was lucky that the first year I was stationed here, there was a dance teacher that taught many styles, including folkloric. The time and effort that is put in just learning these dances can be tiring but at the end, it is satisfying and a great way to meet new people.

How have you incorporated your culture into your time overseas at this base.
While being stationed at RAF Lakenheath, I was part of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Americans before it was a private org. in 2021, and I help in the process of it becoming official in 2022 and am currently the President. We organize many different events from game nights, food fundraisers, to panels and sport events. While doing these activities, the main goilg is to bring the community together regardless of backgrounds, a home away from home.

Also, for about a year, I was part of a folkloric dance group that performed at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall.

Anything you would like to have shared. This could be a story, an event you'd like to be shared, a food recipe, a fun fact about yourself, etc.
Something that always makes me smile is when I meet new people, and see how they light up when they find out about HOLA. They get excited for future events, advise us with new ideas, and have the feeling of being part of something that they can relate to. 

Capt Daniela Trujillo Castrillo

Cultural Background

I lived in Puerto Rico until I went active duty in 2012. My parents moved from Venezuela to Puerto Rico when I was little, so I grew up learning about some Venezuelan traditions as well, which helped me understand more about the Hispanic culture in general and how much we all have in common.

Tell us about something from your culture that you wish was more widely known/practiced.

I don't think enough people know about Puerto Rican food and how amazing it is! Pernil (roasted pork shoulder) is a huge staple in Puerto Rican cuisine, along with many plantain based dishes like tostones, and mofongo! Many traditional Puerto Rican dishes share similar ingredients and flavors with other Hispanic countries. But something I think a lot of people don't realize is how deep and distinctive our roots are from one country to another across Latin America, everything from how we use different words to express similar thoughts, to how we speak and communicate, and even deciding where Salsa was invented, but at the end of the day our shared similarities bring us together as one!

How have you incorporated your culture into your time overseas at this base?

My biggest goal everywhere I go is to make sure Airmen know all the opportunities that are out there for them to engage with our partners. Having a Hispanic cultural background is a HUGE advantage for the Air Force to communicate and build partnerships across the globe. There are training opportunites and programs in palce to allow airmen with language and regional experience to contribute to the Air Force as we continue to build these partnerships and my cultural background has allowed me to better reach out to airmen so they know what these opprotunities are and how to find them.

Anything you would like to have shared. This could be a story, an event you'd like to be shared, a food recipe, a fun fact about yourself, etc.

Earlier this year, I represented the USAF as a translator/logisitics officer at the Feria Aeroespacial Mexico (FAMEX) 23, in Santa Lucia, Mexico. During this event, I not only translated for USAF members to communicate with the Mexican Air Force Team, I also helped coordinate logistics for the US F-16 Viper, CH-47, and KC135 aircraft that participated in the event, all in Spanish. This was an awesome opportunity to not only build partnership with the Mexican Air Forces, but to use my culture background and language skills to showcase the USAF air power! 

SSgt Esteban Olivo

Military Affliation

Active Duty USAF

Cultural Background

I was born in Escondido, CA, but grew up in Houston, TX, where I call home. My dad was born in Cuidad Mier, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and my mom was born in Mexico City, but is of indigenous descent of the Otomi tribe that largely resides in Central Mexico.

Tell us about something from your culture that you wish was more widely known/practiced.

Dia De Los Muertos is very big in our culture, usually celebrated at the beginning of November. Movies like Coco and Book of Life have brought more attention to it, but for me, it's a time to celebrate life and remember the family we have that has passed onto the next life. It also is a time to spend with your family. Family is a very big part of our culture.

How have you incorporated your culture into your time overseas at this base?

I like to invite my friends to a Sunday dinner, and cook food such as pozole, enchiladas, and of course, tacos! Because family is central to our culture, and we are not able to be with our families as often as we like, we tend to build a family away from home with our friends.

Anything you would like to have shared. This could be a story, an event you'd like to be shared, a food recipe, a fun fact about yourself, etc.

One of the best memories I had since being here is being a part of HOLA and seeing the impact we have had on our community. People tend to look for us at events, and always want to try more of the food we have. 

MSgt Myra Staton

Military Affliation

USAF

Cultural Background

I am third generation Mexican American, and I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. My grandparents from both my mother and father's side were born and raised in Mexico.

Tell us something from your culture that you wish was more widely known/practiced.

Every Sunday, my family would gather at my Nana's house for a cherished tradition we called "Melendez Family Sunday Funday." This special day was dedicated to reuniting as a family, sharing stories, and, of course, indulging in delicious food. My Nana was a master at crafting the most exquisite Sunday Menudo and Pozole accompanied by the most delightful loaf of freshly baked bread (pan) imaginable. I remember looking forward to my aunts and uncles hearty laughs, running around with my cousins in the backyard, and leaving with a heart full of love. I wish we could take the opportunity to embrace the uncomplicated joys of life, like taking a leisurely pause on a Sunday (or any day of the week) to savor the warmth of each other's company!

How have you incorporated your culture into your time overseas at this base?

I absolutely love throwing get-togethers at my house, and cooking up some of my all-time favorite Mexican dishes which include street tacos, Spanish rice, guacamole, and loads of chips and salsa for that extra kick! We've got our British neighbors on the guest list, so I get to share a taste of my Mexican roots with them, along with hanging out with out American friends. It's always a blast!

Anything you would like to have shared. This could be a story, an event you'd like to be shared, a food recipe, a fun fact about yourself, etc.

Right now, I proudly wear the crown as the reigning champion of "Best Salsa" at Fairchild AFB, Washington. Just to clarify, we're talking about the kind that invokes your taste buds, not the dance floor moves. My husband Chris and I decided to call my salsa the "Phoenix Heat", in honor of my home city! It's got a fiery kick that can't be denied and is made by family secrets and ingredients. I've even had folks suggesting that I bottle up this delicious concoction for sale. But honestly, my heart leans more towards keeping it a labor of love, sharing it freely with all who appreciate it. After all, there's something truly magical about creating flavors that bring joy to all! 


  1. Hispanic Heritage Month. (n.d.). National Today. https://nationaltoday.com/hispanic-heritage-month/2. 
  2. Editors, H. com. (n.d.). Hispanic Heritage Month. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/hispanic-history/hispanic-heritage-month#why-the-date-of-hispanic-heritage-month-is-important3. 
  3. DAF Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The HEAT is on. (2021, September 17). Air Force. https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2780453/daf-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-the-heat-is-on/
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