By Mrs. Jennifer Bacchus (AMC)September 30, 2010
ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. - Laughter rang through Anniston Army Depot's Berman-Varner House on Sept. 22 as comedian Shayla Rivera passed along an important message - that anyone can do anything - and shared her personal story and sense of humor with the crowd.
Rivera entertained two separate groups for National Hispanic Heritage Month. At lunchtime, she spoke to the depot's first shift workers and during dinner she spoke with night shift employees.
Rivera began her career as a rocket scientist, working with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She said within a few short years, she knew that wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
"Now I'm doing comedy and the only one mad about it is my mother. She wants her tuition money back," joked Rivera.
She likened learning to be a comedian to learning to speak English, something she was determined to do well.
When she came to the United States from her native Puerto Rico as a teenager, she didn't speak the language and had to learn to live in a completely different culture.
"Imagine being taken from your senior prom to China. It's a new language and a new culture," said Rivera. "I had to learn your culture, which is weird."
Rivera discussed some of the hurdles she had to overcome, such as learning that dogs go to the doctor, but said she learned to look for cultural similarities.
"Celebrating Hispanic heritage or any heritage is about celebrating the way we're the same, because we are very much the same," said Rivera.
She said one way everyone is similar is in the limits we each impose upon ourselves. Rivera likened this to training fleas. She said fleas are trained by placing them in lidded jars. At first, they jump so high they hit the lid, but, within a few days, they restrict their jumps and never jump high again.
"We have been put in different jars all our lives," said Rivera as she listed ways people classify themselves and others. "I'm here to remind you that there are no lids on your jars. You can jump out if you want to."
Between the lunch and dinner events, Rivera toured the installation. She reflected on her tour when speaking with night shift employees, telling them how much it meant to know the depot was here, working to ensure Soldiers have the best equipment possible.
She also reminded the workers that every person can make a difference.
"It doesn't matter what you do in your life. You can be here refurbishing weapons or in a cubicle, but one person can change the world," said Rivera.