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News > Hispanic Airman Uses Music to Inspire
Hispanic Airman Uses Music to Inspire

Posted 9/21/2016   Updated 9/21/2016 Email story   Print story

    


by Senior Airman Alaina Shaw
USAF Band of the Golden West


9/21/2016 - September 16th, 2015-Travis AFB, Calif. -- 
In light of Hispanic Heritage Month, Staff Sgt. Melissa Rocha, a member of the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West, recently reflected on her opportunity to inspire Hispanics as well as garner diversity within the Air Force.
 
A performance with the band four years ago in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California, sparked Rocha's motivation to inspire her culture towards leadership and opportunity. The audience was 90 percent Hispanic and, after the performance, five or six audience members approached Rocha, asking, "How did you do it?"
At first, the question took Rocha by surprise, but she began to realize the significance of her accomplishments, especially given her roots and her potential to motivate those with a similar upbringing.

Rocha grew up in San Juan, Texas, 15 miles from the Mexican border. Many of her classmates came from migrant families and lived well below the poverty line.
"My parents were very supportive of anything my brother and I were interested in doing," said Rocha. "I wasn't very academic. I didn't get the best grades, but I always had a love for the arts."

Learning to play the flute and getting involved in her school's band program was a turning point for Rocha.

"Music was the reason I graduated high school and attended college," she said. "In Texas, there was a rule called 'No pass, no play'--you had to pass your classes in order to partake in music events," which motivated her to excel in school.
"All I knew was there was something bigger waiting for me somewhere else," added Rocha, referring to the time leading up to her enrollment at North Texas and Colorado Universities.

After earning Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music, and working at an architectural firm, Rocha felt there was still something missing.
"I wanted to be part of something bigger, to serve," she said. 
The Air Force Band gave her that opportunity. After joining the Air Force in 2006, Rocha began honing her public speaking skills.

"We (the band) are part of Public Affairs," said Rocha. "The guidance Public Affairs and Air Mobility Command gives us to speak has been a huge part of my growth and development as a public speaker. I'm really grateful I joined the Air Force. It has opened up opportunities to inspire others."
Earlier this year, Rocha came across an article online about the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, a three-day leadership conference geared toward gifted Hispanic high school students. Remembering her experience after the concert in LA, Rocha wondered if she could do something similar.

After an intensive application process, Rocha was selected as one of six mentors for the San Joaquin Valley Institute for the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project. Rocha shared her background and Air Force experience with students and guided them through the weekend of seminars and guest speakers.

Over the course of the conference, the confidence and assertiveness of the students continually impressed Rocha. This, along with Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James's initiative to celebrate diversity, has been the "fuel to her fire" and has given her motivation to be involved in similar events, especially after one student expressed a desire to meet with an Air Force recruiter. 

Rocha added, "When they (Hispanics) see someone who's lived it, someone who has a similar story and someone making a difference, it speaks volumes."



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