Published: December 16, 2022
“At the age of 6, I was told to stop speaking Spanish,” shares Andrea Unzueta, San Diego DEPLOY Fellow for Blue Star Families. “They said, ‘This is the U.S., we speak English here.’
As a young, first-generation student, Andrea is no stranger to feelings of isolation. Her family immigrated from Mexico to California for work and to provide their children with different opportunities. With English as a second language, she recalls a time when she struggled to fit in.
Today, Andrea correlates that experience to that of a military spouse, another role of hers. She explains: “[...] feeling like I don’t belong and that I cannot rely upon or contact anyone for help. Seeing people in my community that don’t look like me, or speak my language, makes me feel unwanted. I know many diverse military families feel the same way. There may be diversity in the military workplace but their families do not feel included.”
Data Paints a Picture
Blue Star Families’ Social Impact Research 2021: The Diverse Experiences of Military & Veteran Families of Color, conducted in collaboration with Syracuse University, identified concerns for military and Veteran families of color, such as:
- 4 in 10 active-duty and Veteran family respondents of color cannot find culturally competent providers
- 49% of active-duty spouse respondents of color report their ability to advance in their career is worse than non-white family/friends
- 46% of active-duty family respondents of color consider racial/ethnic discrimination when ranking installation preferences
- 46% of active-duty family respondents of color report difficulty developing a sense of belonging to “my local civilian community due to my (or my family’s) race/ethnicity”
The survey is part of Blue Star Families’ Campaign for Inclusion, a program dedicated to investigating and presenting the inequities military families of color face in areas where they live and work. Another impact area of the program is the DEPLOY Fellowship, which serves as a way to address leadership disparities within military service organizations (MSOs) and Veteran service organizations (VSOs). The uniqueness of the fellowship caught Andrea’s attention.
“I had come across other programs to help provide military families with resources, but no program that focuses on the diversity within the military,” she recalls. “I applied for the DEPLOY Fellowship because I believed it was a great opportunity to be more involved in the military community. I believed if I was able to be part of this organization, I could help other diverse military families feel more included in the military lifestyle.”
Applying Her Past to Guide the Future
The 2022-2023 DEPLOY Fellows cohort includes nine military-connected fellows with dynamic backgrounds and experiences. Andrea, for example, brings her time in law enforcement to her work in Blue Star Families’ San Diego Chapter community.
“I am passionate about helping others,” she shares. “Ever since I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to help
the people in the community I lived in. So I decided the best way to do that was through a career in law enforcement. Even as a police cadet, I was able to help my community just by assisting in translation and providing resources to those in need. As a community service officer, I was able to assist more from taking police reports to locating stolen vehicles, helping with car accidents, and so on. I bring this passion I have to help others in need to this fellowship because I have been in a situation in need and was scared to ask for help and speak up.”
Andrea also says Detective Barriola from the Beaumont Police Department inspires her throughout her pursuit of equality. “She is a true example of if you set your mind to something, anything is possible,” she explains. “Detective Barriola was born in Mexico and was later brought to the U.S. by her mother. She had to learn a whole new language at a young age to get ahead in life. She also went through the police academy as a mother of two young children. She had to work hard to get to where she is at the moment, from overcoming stereotypes to battling serious health issues. There were people who didn’t want to see her succeed in life, but she never let them get in the way of her goals. She fought for what she wanted and obtained it. Just like her, I will fight and advocate for what I want and believe in – no matter how many obstacles stand in my way.”
Follow Andrea’s journey with Blue Star Families on the San Diego Chapter Facebook page, and stay tuned for the newest data from the Campaign for Inclusion, which is scheduled to release in early 2023.