Hispanic Heritage Month; A time to pay tribute to Hispanic Americans

  • Published
  • By Minnie Jones
  • 433rd Airlift Wing

Every year, Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, Americans traditionally celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which honors Hispanic and Latino Americans’ cultures and contributions.

Two Hispanic Americans and San Antonio natives, Chief Master Sgt. Joe Gonzalez, 433rd Mission Support Squadron, mission support group Superintendent, and Tech. Sgt. Christine R. Narro, 433rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron, optometry technician, are both enlisted Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the 433rd Airlift Wing at Joint Base San Antonio–Lackland, Texas.

However, aside from those similarities, they also still have a lot more in common. They are both second and third-generation Hispanics that can trace their heritage back to Mexico. They are both San Antonians, and Gonzalez’s father and Narro’s grandfather were immigrants who, like many Mexican immigrants, settled here in the Alamo City because of the city’s strong ties to Mexico. And it is the largest Hispanic-majority city in the United States. And finally, both of their paternal fathers worked in steel fabrication as welders.

Chief Master Sgt. Gonzalez - Joe S. Gonzalez, Sr.

“My father, Joe S. Gonzalez, Sr, was born in Mexico on or about Aug. 12, 1912, his exact birth date was unknown. He was born in a small village near Puruándiro, Michoacán, Mexico, southwest of Mexico City,” said Gonzalez. “At a young age, he tragically lost his father and became the head of the household. As the only son, he did his best to provide for his family by working in the village’s fields to make money. Around 1930 he migrated to the United States.” he said.

“My father was a veteran and remembered the attack on Pearl Harbor. That attack impacted him so much that he told me he wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. Ironically, following that, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944.”

During World War II, he found himself in France supporting liberation efforts. He remembers his father telling him about close to the German forces more often than he wished. Gonzalez, Sr. recalled one incident that his dad told him about during an incursion when he and a German soldier ran into each other by surprise. He shared how they both looked at each other, with fear in their eyes; rifles and ready to fire, but they mutually began walking away in separate directions without saying a word. He caught shrapnel in his left ankle and tried to clear an area when a grenade was lobbed into his position. After a few surgeries, the Army released him from service due to his injuries. He limped for the rest of his life.

Subsequently, after being released from the military, Gonzalez, Sr. remained in San Antonio, working odd jobs, one of them was polishing shoes downtown. He did what he could to make ends meet until he was hired by a local steel company and began his career as a welder.

Gonzalez Sr.’s contributions to the city of San Antonio were to two historical sites that are still standing today. One was the Joske’s building located downtown when Gonzalez Sr, a welder, made architects James Wahrenberger and Albert Beckman’s design come to fruition when he worked on the building’s distinctive cast-iron frame that scales vertically across the building’s design. The building is now part of the National Register of Historic Places-listed in the City of San Antonio Alamo Plaza Historic District and is also one of the city’s local landmarks.

His second contribution was in 1966 with the construction of “The Tower of the Americas,” built for the 1968 World’s Fair. Gonzalez Sr. made the rails in the Tower’s observation deck, but they have since been replaced with windows. Gonzalez Jr. remembers going up the Tower into the deck as a teenager and seeing his work and feeling connected to my father’s craftsmanship. The Tower is also a historical landmark.

Gonzalez Jr. recalls when he joined the military, “When I enlisted in the Air Force in 1991, I prayed that my father could see me take the Oath of Enlistment to defend our county, but he passed in 1988. Nevertheless, the seed was already planted. I wanted to serve my country, just as he had.” He said.

“I clearly remember the scars physically and mentally that stayed with him for the remainder of his life. He always told me, ‘War is hell,’ I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but as my career progressed and my deployments accumulated, I began to see the full picture he shared with me as a child.” said Gonzalez, Jr.

In his civilian occupation, Gonzalez, Jr is an I.T. Project Manager, a contractor with the Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

Tech. Sgt. Christine R. Narro - Felix Gonzalez

Tech. Sgt. Narro’s grandfather, Felix Gonzalez, did not enlist in the military. He was registered with the Selective Service, but was never called. However, he made a significant contribution to Kelly Air Force Base, now KellyUSA, in San Antonio. Also, a welder, he helped construct the Veterans Monument, dedicated in May of 1992 to honor service members who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Today’s monument still stands on Kelly; however, base officials later rededicated it to civilian and military personnel who served at Kelly and the country.

Felix Gonzalez retired from the sheet metal shop after 30 years. Ironically, he retired the same year Joe S. Gonzalez, Sr. died.

Her choice to join the Air Force Reserve versus active duty was due to her close ties to her family and her desire to stay near them if they needed her.

“I joined the military to further myself as a single parent to my daughter, Amoretta, who is 11 years old. The Air Force has allowed me to grow as a person and provided me with an education that will last a lifetime and an avenue to better employment,” Narro explained.

“I’ve earned my degree from the Community College of the Air Force in 2018 and, subsequently, a bachelor’s degree in Health Science. Those opportunities opened the door to excelling in numerous medical field jobs, such as working in ophthalmology, the refractive surgery center at Lackland, and the 59th Medical Wing in the Science and Technology, Office of the Chief Scientist as a clinical project assistant in support of military research projects related to Expeditionary Medicine.

“I was raised in a family that originated from Mexico. My grandpa influenced me to appreciate everyone for what was on the inside, not on the outside. Even though Spanish was his first language, he always respected everyone equally, whether Mexican or American,” said Narro. “He influenced me to respect the USA for offering everyone who immigrated a chance to be all they can be. Now that I know that he helped built the flag monument at Kelly makes me appreciate his hard work to support our country and the veterans even more.

In her civilian occupation, Narro is a Clinical Research Coordinator at an ophthalmology clinic in San Antonio.