HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH: AFLCMC system engineer offers broad perspective

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Edgardo Santiago-Maldonado, an airworthiness system engineer in the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization Program in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, was just 17 years old when his talents on the baseball field opened doors stateside and he was offered an athletic scholarship to a community college in Georgia.

The youngest of four and born in Puerto Rico, Santiago-Maldonado left his home--a home where Spanish was his primary language--and began college in a school that he describes as being "in the middle of nowhere" Georgia.

"Talk about a culture shock," he said. "...for me and for my teammates."

When Santiago-Maldonado arrived in southwestern Georgia, he only had basic conversational English skills. He explained that it took about 2 years to grasp the nuances of not just the English language, but the culture as well.

But Santiago-Maldonado wasn't the only person trying to adapt to something very different--another language, another culture, not to mention being far from the support of loved ones.

Most of my teammates grew up in the same town as the college, he said. Some of them never accepted me.

This didn't stop him.

Santiago-Maldonado, a catcher, continued to play ball and continued his studies. The skills he developed on the baseball field likely had an impact on the person he is today.

According to an article in the Association for Psychological Science journal, the catcher on a baseball team has a significant amount of responsibility and his role on the field is demanding.

"A skilled catcher must have lightning-fast judgment, be capable of complex statistical analysis, and have highly developed organizational as well as leadership skills," says James and Robert Arkin in "Catching science: The mind behind the mask."

Skills such as these translate into the workplace, not to mention the resilience he displayed as he overcame certain oppressions.

After two years of community college, Santiago-Maldonado transferred to Georgia Southwestern State University where he played two more years of baseball and earned his first bachelor degree in Chemistry.  Then, he went to Georgia Institute of Technology and earned a second bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering. 

"When I was at Georgia Tech, I got a job working as a co-op student with NASA," he said. "I worked with them for 12 years at the Kennedy Space Center down in Florida."

"When I was at NASA, I was able to see the last shuttle launch - [Atlantis] - and I worked on some ground operation systems for the shuttle program, and a lot of research and design for future missions to the moon and Mars."

While at NASA, Santiago-Maldonado's spouse was offered a position at Wright-Patt and they decided to relocate to the Dayton area.

"NASA allowed me to work [at Wright-Patt] as a detail assignment in the Air Force Research Laboratory for about three years doing space launch vehicle technology," he said.  "Then in February of 2015, I was hired by the Air Force to do airworthiness for the presidential aircraft."

The benefits of being bilingual

An early 1900s philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world."

Further, according to an article in the New Yorker, "the words that we have at our disposal affect what we see--and the more words there are, the better our perception.  When we learn to speak a different language, we learn to see a bigger world."

Santiago-Maldonado's world was becoming much larger

"In Puerto Rico, we all had a very centric view of others," he explained. "...the whole idea of we are what we are and nothing else matters.  But here in the states, there are a lot of different cultures that I was naïve about."

Santiago-Maldonado explained that Puerto Rico has two official languages - Spanish and English.

"As we go through our school system in Puerto Rico, we learn English alongside Spanish."

Most children in the United States do not get the option to take a foreign language until they reach high school, but Santiago-Maldonado's experiences allows him to know the benefits of not just learning a second language, but learning it as early as possible.

"Learning a second language should start as early as maybe kindergarten," he said. "Starting this in high school is just too late."

"So for me...I know Spanish.  But for me to learn Italian or Portuguese--it's not that difficult," he said.  "The languages are similar because they have the same Latin root."

Santiago-Maldonado and his spouse are raising their two children with both Spanish and English.

"When we had our daughter, we were in Florida and her first daycare experience was in Spanish. By the time she was 3 years old, she was completely fluent in Spanish," he explained. 

"And we speak nothing but Spanish at home."

"My daughter speaks Spanish so she now understands that she is a little different than everyone else, but when she looks at the kids sitting next to her in her kindergarten class--she sees they are also different," he said. "She has Middle Eastern classmates, Indian, Chinese...she understands that everybody's different."

That breeds a mentality of acceptance, he said.

National Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated every year from Sept 15 until Oct. 15, honors the traditions and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Latin America and Spain.

The Department of Defense recognizes many special observance months to support American citizens who historically have been discriminated against. 

Events for this year's Hispanic Heritage Month are as follows:

2 Oct 15    1100 to 1300hrs    Spanish and Cooking Class

6 Oct 15    0700 to 0900hrs    Breakfast Burrito Sales

13 Oct       1100 to 1300hrs   Hispanic American Heritage Month Observance Grand Finale at the Grandé Ballroom Wright-Patterson Club (tickets on sales soon)

For more information on these events, please contact Master Sgt. Beatriz Perry at 257-3075.