Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month – Sgt. 1st Class Julissa Artis serving at Fort Lee, Virginia

By T. Anthony Bell, USAG Fort Lee Public Affairs OfficeOctober 14, 2022

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage
Sgt. 1st Class Julissa Artis is a human resources specialist assigned to the 59th Ordnance Brigade, Fort Lee, Virginia. She grew up in the Virgin Islands and maintains a determination to share her culture with others. "Being a Soldier doesn't mean you have to lose what's important to you," she said about the importance of celebrating diversity. "We're all different, but we come together as a team." (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by T. Anthony Bell ) VIEW ORIGINAL

Military Occupational Specialty: 42A human resources specialist

Unit: 59th Ordnance Brigade

Time in service: 15 years (National Guard and active duty combined)

Age: 36

Hometown: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

Background: The former Julissa Ortiz grew up in rural St. Thomas as the daughter of a Dominican homemaker and native who was a National Guardsman and police officer. Part Hispanic, African American and Danish, Artis grew up speaking Spanish and English and living with her parents, three older siblings and grandmother in a modest home and idyllic setting. “There was just so much love there,” said Artis of her upbringing amid mango trees, passionfruit and free-roaming iguanas. Also dear to her recollections were “carnivals” – the type in which citizens gathered for festive parades pronounced by the rhythms of soca and calypso – and her mother’s seamstress skills that literally contributed to the preparations. “She made clothes for a lot of people on the island, and whenever we had carnival time, she would make costumes for the troops,” recalled Artis.

Connecting with her Hispanic upbringing: Artis’s mother was the household nucleus growing up, so when she passed away in 2019, “I never wanted to go back home,” she said, “because home isn’t home without her.” Artis reconsidered after the birth of her youngest child. “I gave birth in 2021, and after she became a couple of months old, I was like, ‘It’s not fair to my kids. They need to know where I grew up. They need to experience the islands.’” Artis and her husband, also a Soldier, embarked on efforts to share each’s heritage to help their children appreciate their lives and to strengthen ties to the communities of their origin. On a recent trip to St. Thomas, they steered away from tourist destinations and experienced all the things Artis held dear growing up. Her six-year-old was especially smitten. “He absolutely loved it,” she recalled. “We had such a great time.” Team Artis has plans to continue their trips home well into the future.

Why she feels it’s important to share her culture: “Heritage is important – the music, the food … it just makes me happy inside to know I was a part of that culture, and I want my kids to know it too. I want them to be a part of it even though they don’t get to see it here day-to-day.”

What people don’t know about being Hispanic: The term “Hispanic” is a broad term and is not an ethnicity but rather refers to those having a connection to Spain, according to online references. Hispanics come in all colors and belong to various cultures and ethnicities. “It is very diverse,” said Artis. Further, Hispanics may speak not Spanish or speak one of a number of Spanish dialects that may differ somewhat from that which is practiced in Spain. “For example, growing up in St. Thomas, my dialect is a lot different compared to others,” she said.

Why it is important to celebrate diversity: “The Army has so many people who belong to so many different cultures. We’re all from these different nooks and crannies of the world, and we want to be seen and heard. It’s our job to be Soldiers all day long, and we’re away from home for so long that you lose who you are. Being a Soldier doesn’t mean you have to lose what was important to you. We’re all different, but we come together as a team.”