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Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James Rodriguez speaks to families during a recent luncheon at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. Rodriguez recognizes the support all families give to service members and credits his Hispanic heritage for helping him have a strong sense of family. (Department of Defense photo by Reese Brown, Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital Public affairs)
He considers himself a Mexican-American. But for Texas native James Rodriguez, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense in the Office of Warrior Care Policy, his family doesn’t come from immigrant roots.
“I’m a Texan, actually,” said Rodriguez. “There are six generations of us from Texas. In fact, we were here before Texas was Texas.”
Originally from the small town of Aransas Pass on the Gulf Coast, this son of a 16-year-old mother was raised by his grandmother, whom he credits for keeping the family together and Rodriguez on a straight path. “She was the rock of the family,” he said. “She projected a sense of doing something for family that was more important than doing something just for yourself.”
The sense of community instilled by his grandmother, along with a sense of patriotism expressed through military service handed down from his uncles, pushed Rodriguez to his decision to serve in the Marine Corps. He wanted to give back to the country he loves. While he held onto his Hispanic heritage and tried to mentor the young Hispanics around him, he said he was a Marine first and foremost. That Marine culture is similar to Hispanic culture as it also instills a sense of community and a sense of wanting to be part of something that is bigger than the individual.
“I was fortunate to have another Mexican-American Marine Corps leader mentor me, who actually inspired me to attend college and shaped my future in the Marine Corps. And I felt it was my obligation to do the same for someone else,” emphasizing to his Marines that they didn’t lose their Hispanic culture just because they joined the military. “Your culture is who you are. Being a Marine is what you do. I still use that same thought process in preserving our Hispanic culture with my daughters and wife. Your cultural values are vital to your long-term success within any organization.”
As much as his grandmother tried to preserve their Hispanic heritage, surprisingly, Rodriguez said that didn’t include speaking Spanish. Back when he was growing up, speaking Spanish in school was discouraged, as those in charge wanted them to speak English to better assimilate into the education system. His grandmother’s own experience not speaking English well created challenges for her, and she did not want her children and grandchildren to have the same problems. “But I’m proud to say now that speaking Spanish is encouraged, and many in the younger generations are encouraged to speak it to maintain their heritage. It’s good we are remaining connected to our cultural roots.”
Rodriguez said while not fluent yet, he does speak Spanish now, something that remains culturally important to him. He also continues to encourage young Hispanics to find ways to preserve their cultural heritage.
“Now more than ever, it’s important for us to embrace our culture and prove we have a positive influence in this country,” said Rodriguez. “We have a lot of [Hispanic] men and women, super educated, super smart, who bring a lot of valuable resources to the entire Military Health System and the Department of Defense, and we need to celebrate that.”
(Post via Military Health System