I spent my early childhood in Mexico, where my father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse. Life was peaceful at first, but the cartels took that away, and we fled to the United States–leaving everything behind in an instant. I went from being a rich kid to living in an industrial ghost town. I felt attacked on all sides, as if everything about me was wrong. My language was wrong. My food was wrong. My clothes were wrong. My skin tone was wrong. Inside the home we were Mexican, butinside my head all I could hear was Be MORE American.
Neighbors vandalized our home, and classmates beat me up. One day as I was being pummeled by bullies, the kicks and blows suddenly fell away. I looked up to see the uniformed Marine Corps recruiter who had sent the bullies packing. In that moment, he was my superhero, and I wanted to be just like him.
Miami’s 1st and Broward’s 1st platoons have two unique things in mind: environmental stewardship and youth development. It is within this cross-sectional focus that the two platoons come together and literally build community, one nail and wooden plank at time.
As a member of this community, I have found strength, not through the force of hands; wisdom, not through the wealth of experience; and kinship, not through the number of bodies. I have discovered these attributes and more, like empathy, kindness and sacrifice through their capacity to accept me as I am.
Inspired by her childhood in Mexico, Carolina was destined to become a fashion designer with a purpose. Carolina said, “I used to observe my mother making clothes for my siblings and myself. Seeing her transform fabrics into garments intrigued me to the point that it motivated me to come to the United States.”
At the age of 18, Carolina left everything she knew in the hopes of attending design school in the United States. “The simple pleasures that most natives took for granted like simply understanding a movie in English was a daunting task,” she describes.
While many Americans are aware that there is a “proper” way to raise, fold and store the American flag, not many actually know the rules by heart. Air Force veteran Angel Gual is one exception. Recently, Angel noticed that the Boys & Girls Club where he volunteered had an old flag pole — with no flag. Just in time for Independence Day, Angel helped the Club obtain a flag, but he just didn’t stop there.
Motivated by his love for the American flag and his desire to share it with the youth at his local Boys & Girls Club, the Nan Knox Club, it was important for Angel to teach them about the flag’s history and significance. And so began Operation Raise the Flag.
Angel worked tirelessly to secure a flag donation and coordinated with the fire department to install it. He then held a workshop explaining how to raise, lower, and fold it properly, and organized an art project where veterans from the Broward County 1st Service Platoon in Florida joined youth to paint the American flag on their hands.
“I taught them that the flag represents all of us as Americans. That men and women from all walks of life and cities wake up every day under this flag to protect their rights,” said Angel.
“It meant so much to see how truly excited the kids were at the opportunity to learn about the flag and how to handle it and what it means. I could see how gently they held the flag with the sole purpose of not letting it fall out of their hands.”
City Impact Manager Matthew “Mateo” Tanner for The Mission Continues explains, “The Nan Knox Club, where Operation Raise the Flag took place, is located in a historically black community known as the Sistrunk Boulevard. This small community faces the daily challenges of extreme poverty and lack of local businesses and resources for residents.”
Angel’s commitment to youth goes way back. Growing up, Angel regularly volunteered with the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown of New Jersey. It’s even where he landed his first job at the age of 16, and maintained good relationships with the youth and their families over the years. “I helped take care of and mentor younger inner-city kids. The staff there helped mold me into the man I am today.”
The reason Angel returned to volunteering after 20 years of military service is because without it, “I felt lost and empty. For several years I searched for a new mission.”
That new mission came to him when he found The Mission Continues, a volunteer organization for veterans looking to help under-resourced communities. When he joined The Mission Continues’ Broward County 1st Service Platoon as its platoon leader, “I felt complete again.”
As its platoon leader, Angel collaborated with Mateo to build a relationship with The Boys & Girls Club, advocating for it to become the platoon’s operational partner. This meant that the platoon would work primarily with and through The Boys & Girls Club for the benefit of the community.
For Angel, it’s all about coming full circle. “For me, returning to help the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs after all these years feels like I’m coming back home and doing what I love.”
To volunteer alongside veterans like Angel, sign up for the Broward County 1st Service Platoon’s next project! You don’t have to be a veteran to volunteer with us – non-veterans are most welcome too.
Contributing Sponsors of the Broward 1st Service Platoon are All Within My Hands and The Henry & Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation. We thank them for their support, which makes stories — and impact — like this possible.
My name is Jin Kong. I am a husband and a father, an immigrant and a veteran. I am not a rarity, but one of many immigrant stories from my military days.
One friend told me he walked across the Mexico/US border with his mother at a very young age. He was deported then and later came back to the US legally. Another medic was a Southeast-Asian Buddhist who converted to Mormonism and married before our deployment. One of our infantry brothers immigrated from Argentina. He took an injury to one eye in the war while serving as a sniper. He later became a photographer and traversed Iraq while the war was still on, armed only with a camera and a local guide.Continue reading “This Is for the Immigrant Veterans Who Inspired My Fellowship”
You wouldn’t think veterans, their families, and Gold Star families are being deported — but they are.
What spurred me to speak to Chicago’s City Council about this is a story that’s been in the news recently about Miguel Perez Jr.. Miguel is a United States Army veteran who, after serving time for drug-related charges, is facing the possibility of being deported to Mexico, a country he hasn’t seen since he was eight. He deployed to Afghanistan twice, and has relative experience with combat and weapons. He and his family fear he will be forced to serve cartels and gangs if sent to Mexico because of his expertise.
As a veteran and President of League of United Latin American Citizens – Green Card Veterans chapter, I am driven to talk about this issue. Although we are often led to believe that this is an issue that only affects the Mexican community, the fact is that this fight for justice and equality is one that transcends ethnic differences.
When veterans return home, they are met with unemployment, reintegration challenges, lack of support, and lack of purpose. Because of this, veterans are routinely preyed upon by financial institutions, so-called educational institutions, and, in cases like Miguel, by organized crime for his knowledge of weapons and combat.Continue reading “Why Are We Losing Our Veterans to Deportation?”
Imagine you were barred from legally getting a job, a driver’s license, or if you wanted to go to college, financial aid. This was my reality for many years and it made me fearful and confused. I want to share my story with you to show you the struggles and experiences that led me to find my purpose in life which is to contribute to my community and country. And I want to discuss how my experiences relate to those of immigrants in America.
I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. And when I was three years old, I was brought to the U.S. by my mother. She wanted a better life for me and my sister but she couldn’t bring us here legally. As a result, I lived the next 20 years of my life undocumented. A few years later my father reunited with us.
When I was seven years old my father casually told me at a family gathering that I was undocumented and that I was different from other people. His words seared in my mind. Undocumented. How could one word change my life? I didn’t feel different; I didn’t look different, but I was now set apart. Growing up I had a difficult time resolving in my head that I was undocumented and I was going to be legally barred from getting a job. At the same time, I had people around me encouraging me to do well in school. I remember in 7th grade my teacher told our class: “each of you has the opportunity to go to college and get a good job. You just have to work hard enough.”Continue reading “Undocumented: How One Word Changed My Life”