By Joseph Fusco, The Guard –
On 21 June, 2018, Parliament passed a law designating October as Latin American Heritage Month. As October has come to an end, the Guard sat down with Master Warrant Officer (MWO) Adis Perez, Senior Human Resources Administrator (HRA) for the Canadian Forces Support Unit (Ottawa) (CFSU[O]) to talk about what it is like to be a “Latina” Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member and how she believes Latin American Heritage Month can grow in the upcoming years within the CAF and the Defence Team as a whole.
MWO Perez joined the Reserve Force in 1997 as Artilleryman, then re-mustered as a Resource Management Support (RMS) Clerk in the early 2000s, to finally transfer to the Regular (Reg) Force in 2002. CFSU(O) was her first Reg Force Posting as she worked as the NDHQ Chief Warrant Officer Administrative Assistant. Being a part of the CAF has allowed MWO Perez to travel to different locations around the world, such as Gagetown, Germany, Petawawa, and Washington D.C. She came back to CFSU(O) in July 2019 and is now the highest ranking Non-Commissioned Latin American member in the CAF.
Born and raised in El Salvador, MWO Perez immigrated to Canada right after she graduated high school at the age of 18. Her mother had already immigrated to Canada, which gave MWO Perez the opportunity to have her mother sponsor her so she could come live with her. Coming to Canada, MWO Perez spoke no English, as she told the Guard, “My first goal when I arrived to Canada was to learn English as I only spoke Spanish, so I registered in English as a Second Language classes for adults.”
Being a “Latina” in the Forces has opened many doors for MWO Perez, not only professionally but also within her community as she serves as an example of the opportunities the CAF offer to all Canadians. Most of the Hispanics living in Canada come here escaping civil war and other armed conflicts. “As such we encounter the issue of trust or feeling intimidated by those who wear the uniform (friend or foe). Many Latin American parents struggle with the thought of their children joining any type of military establishment, while other minority groups have moved forward joining the military, I think there is still a gap for Hispanics,” said MWO Perez.
“It’s important that the Latin community sees that the CAF represents what Canada looks like because it doesn’t matter where your heritage comes from – Spain, Central or South America, or any other Spanish-speaking country, Hispanics like me and many other CAF members are forming a legacy of Hispanics making sacrifices for this country. Being a Latina in the CAF has been amazing!”
When asked about her motivation to be an advocate for the Latin American community, MWO Perez touched on how the Latin American population is quite large in Canada, and that the amount of representation does not reflect how big the Latin American community is. She was also very adamant about how change starts with herself. “If I want to see change I need to first start with myself. Now that I’m back in Ottawa, I have a great opportunity to promote the community in a more effective manner.”
Within the Defence Team, there has been an outreach program for Latin American members since 2009. This group was created and continues to be organized by Captain (Capt) Milton Hoyos and Capt Rey Garcia-Salas. Their main goal has been to bring Latin American CAF members together, linking them through email. MWO Perez is part of this group and recognizes their efforts, highlighting that “they have done a lot of work for the CAF and the community to get our name out there, who we are as a community, and being able to connect with each other.”
MWO Perez has had many opportunities to showcase her cultural background and Spanish language proficiencies. She was given the opportunity to participate in Latin American conferences at home and abroad. These conferences provided support to the Navy, Army and Air Force, more specifically the System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA). She was also selected for a posting to the Inter-American Defence Board (IADB) in Washington, D.C. What she noticed while serving in the United States (US) was that they are way ahead of Canada in the recognition of minorities. As MWO Perez said, “In the US, you do not need an excuse to celebrate your heritage. Each country has their own heritage month, most of them between August and September, as most countries’ independence days take place during that time frame. There is always a celebration going on.” This makes the integration of Latin American members into the US Defence Team more seamless, “but with more exposure, Canada will not be far behind,” she adds. All of these experiences as well as key takeaways have helped her understand the role Latin Americans play within the CAF and other defence teams in the security of the Western countries.
On 4 October, 2019, MWO Perez had the chance to meet other members of the Latin American community from the National Capital Region (NCR) at City Hall during the formal launch of Latin American Heritage Month. It was a very dignifyed event as it was attended by many Latin American business owners, professionals, artists, Ambassadors, and other dignitaries. “It was all very exciting as all the attendees embraced us and as an immigrant, it is a great feeling to be so welcomed and included as part of this community.”
Now that the CAF recognizes Latin American Heritage Month, the onus is on community members to express what events they would like to see happen during the month of October to further promote it. “The way I look at it now, we have been recognized by the institution, so what do we do as a community to showcase our culture, heritage, and contributions to this great nation?” said MWO Perez. “We have been pushing for years to get national status, and now we have it so it is time to take full advantage.”
Feature Image Credit: The Maple Leaf
All other Photos: CFSU(O) Imaging Services
This post is also available in: Français (French)