Sometimes, when we’re on the precipice of adulthood, it can feel like we’re walking across a tightrope. One foot in front of the other we step, unsure of what our decisions on this journey will bring. It’s a balancing act, with the obligations of society, our personal lives, and professional expectations sometimes tipping the harmony we work to create.
For a large portion of his life, Arizona State University Army ROTC Cadet Ricardo Correa felt caught in the middle of that tightrope. On one end was his Latino heritage—his culture, his family—and waiting on the other end was the urge to fit in as a first generation American.
“It was hard for me to balance two different cultures—my Latino culture and transforming into that American culture,” said Correa. “I had to carve my way into looking at opportunities to grow in each culture. Being in two cultures at the same time made it difficult to find that common ground.”
Growing up in the predominantly Spanish-speaking Phoenix Metro area with parents who migrated from Mexico, Correa felt an immense amount of pressure to navigate both cultures.
“I’ve been told: You need to act more Latino, you need to speak more Spanish, you need to be more fluent,” Correa said. “But I’ve also been told: You’ve got to understand English, you’ve got to act more American. So, this made it difficult for me to have a different perspective on life.”
From 2000-2018, Latinos and Hispanics saw a 14-percent increase in students ages 18-24 who were enrolled in college (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). While this growth is an improvement, when compared to peers, numbers for Hispanic students enrolled in college still sit third from the bottom just above Pacific Islander and Native American students. Latino and Hispanic students are more likely to be first-generation college students and face more financial hurdles than other racial/ethnic groups in the United States.
“I had a lot of friends growing up that didn’t have that opportunity to go to college,” he said. “Living in a low-income family, I had to work extra hard to stay up to date, keep up with school, and have a better outlook on life.
Correa said that from a young age he valued the idea of higher education. “It was like a challenge that I wanted to accept and overcome,” he said. “The Army made it possible for me.”
In 2017 Correa joined the Arizona National Guard as a high school senior. He says this opportunity became the missing link in uniting his Latino and American ties.
“I am grateful for the continuous efforts the Army and ROTC have made to recognize Hispanic veterans and Hispanic leaders with their successes and personal stories of triumph,” Correa said.
Through these stories, Correa has been able to feel united and empowered through his heritage.
“The military has given me the opportunity to intertwine both cultures and feel more accepted,” he said. “I felt very connected. I felt like my culture was being appreciated.”
With Correa now comfortably established in an institution that met his social, professional, and cultural needs, he very quickly realized that he wanted to make the Army his career.
“I reached out to a senior leader in my National Guard unit and they provided insight on what ROTC had to offer,” he said. “I realized that ROTC aligned well with my career goals.”
After graduating high school in 2018, Correa joined Army ROTC and attended Central College in Iowa. Being away from home was difficult, but his involvement with ROTC kept him grounded and provided the support system Correa was missing while being apart from his family.
“When we kept in touch, Ricardo would always bring up ROTC and the opportunities if offered for him,” said Correa’s mother, Eugenia.
“We were happy to have him back and see him further succeed in his military career,” Correa’s father, Jose, said.
Now currently a senior at ASU, Correa is majoring in Kinesiology with hopes of branching in the Medical Specialist Corps.
“My ultimate goal is to become a physical therapist for the United States Army,” Correa said, adding that attending Baylor University’s Physical Therapy School would be a dream accomplishment. “I want to help set that example for others to follow, and I think that being in a higher Army command and following on to a prestigious school will give that guidance to those that want to achieve more in the Army.”
After having overcome so many cultural, financial, and educational obstacles at a young age, Correa hopes others will be inspired to take hold of their future.
“My main hope is to see more Hispanics and Latinos being able to take those opportunities and become successful,” he said, adding that he’s aware of the disproportionate numbers in college attendance for Latinos and Hispanics. “I hope that in the future, more Hispanics have that ability to get those rates up and finish school and not go straight into the work force after graduating from high school. I want to see more Latinos get their bachelor’s degree.”
He is an enthusiastic supporter of his peers looking into higher education and finding something they’re truly passionate about—opportunities, he says, the Army can provide them with.
“With the help of ROTC and the wide variety of career paths and opportunities, they are more than likely going to find a career that fulfills their interests while also serving a bigger cause,” Correa said.
His parents echo their son’s sentiments about serving and are excited to see him pursue his dreams with the Army.
“We are extremely happy to see Ricardo make it this far,” said Eugenia. “Above all, we are appreciative of the opportunities the Army has given Ricardo to this point.”
Having completed Cadet Summer Training in June and now preparing to graduate and commission in the spring, both Correa and his parents say he is prepared to move forward as a leader and officer for the United States Army.
“Over the course of his time in ROTC, we have witnessed Ricardo develop himself as a dedicated and devoted young man,” Jose said. “His drive to excel and become a better leader ensures that he will have a bright future.”
With the leadership and interpersonal skills he’s learned in Army ROTC, Correa wants to be a mentor and opportunity maker for his peers.
“I think that being that guiding hand to other Hispanic service members can go a long way,” he said. “I can provide those skill sets for them to be more successful. It helps to have that mentality that my Latino counterparts can be successful in the Army, and that’s what I want to help them with.”
As the Army continues to transform and become more reflective of the society it serves, diverse Cadets like Correa embody a key component in bridging the racial and cultural gaps among the Officer Corps. Correa believes it’s important for the Army to continue to educate and expand their views on diversity because it is “our strongest asset.”
“With diversity, the sense of serving the United States Army is the common ground,” Correa said. “By including every gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and sexual orientation, soldiers are empowered by feeling accepted.”
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Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
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