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    Shared Heritage: From Colombia and Jamaica to the U.S. Marine Corps, one Marine’s 2,433-mile journey across cultures and generations

    "I challenge you to strive..." Cpl. Christopher Hernandez talks about being selected for the Commandant's Retention Program

    Photo By Lance Cpl. Orlanys Diaz Figueroa | U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Christopher Hernandez, a combat videographer with 2nd Marine...... read more read more

    UNITED STATES

    01.25.2024

    Story by Cpl. Samuel Qin 

    U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South

    His first journey to explore his roots in Jamaica was a sensory explosion, a shell shock that awakened him to a startling world. Jamaica was not the safest of places at night, but it was a place where U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Christopher Hernandez found sanctuary in his family's stronghold — a street block where kinship formed an unbreakable fortress. Here, this neighborhood created a familial web so intricate that stepping outside meant encountering a cousin or an aunt — a comforting reminder of belonging.

    A trip to Colombia mirrored this experience in many ways. Here too, the family gatherings were anticipated.

    “I definitely try to keep myself grounded and remember where I came from,” said Hernandez. “When my family and I would visit, everybody knew we were coming into town because we sent a message before. Upon arrival, we would just have people waiting.”

    Similar to Jamaica, the family's presence transformed spaces, creating pockets of safety in an otherwise uncertain place. The frameworks might have been different compared to his home in the United States, but the strength of familial bonds built a different kind of architecture, one of resilience and heritage.

    Although Hernandez was neither born in Jamaica nor Colombia, his lineage showcases the strong connections between the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean through the lives of first-generation Americans.

    Hernandez's mother, born in Jamaica, moved to Florida in her youth. His father, born in New Jersey but raised in Colombia's coastal cities of Cartagena and Ciénaga, returned to the U.S., settling in Hialeah, Florida. This blend of Jamaican and Colombian culture shaped Hernandez's upbringing.

    His mother's side, with 12 siblings along with his grandmother with 14 siblings, epitomized the close-knit Jamaican family values. The Colombian side of his family, though smaller, was no less significant.

    During his first visit to Colombia, Hernandez encountered his great-grandmother, a matriarch whose life spanned nearly a century.

    “There were seven of us, and it was our first time finally seeing her,” Hernandez recalled from his first trip to Colombia. “She was, I think, 90. And it was surreal because she was the one who started the roots down in Colombia.”

    This encounter bridged generations, linking past and present in a living lineage. Hernandez’s great-grandmother carried with her the stories, traditions, and experiences of earlier generations, akin to his great-grandfather who had traversed continents, from France to Guadalupe and ultimately to Colombia.

    “When we met her, she said that she's super happy that now, her grandchildren had great-grandchildren back in the States,” said Hernandez. “We were living out the dream. The dream that she wanted for her generation, which for her was playing out. So, as one of those 14-year-old kids standing with their parents, I was just super happy.”

    It was a defining moment, a realization of his place in a story much larger than himself. It established a legacy of courage that Hernandez and his family were proud to uphold and one that he would follow.

    “My dad, he is also a Marine, and so I know he definitely felt something as well because he was trying to also better himself and his future generations too,” said Hernandez. “I have a lot of weight on my shoulders. I have a family back in the rear, right back at home. They're looking towards me saying, ‘Hey, you're the guy that will carry the torch, right?’”

    As the torchbearer of their collective aspirations, Hernandez was the one who would carry forward the honor of the family name. A family name that spanned thousands of miles.

    “I see it as a blessing,” said Hernandez. “A blessing because although not everyone sees it like this, I do — to carry my last name and, from my mom's side, to carry a piece of her family as well. I just want to carry it with greatness because I know they got it out of the mud back in Jamaica. You take those stories of how Jamaica was and how hard it was for them and keep it in mind with everything you do.”

    Hernandez’s father and mother had instilled in him a deep sense of duty and a commitment to excellence. There was an unspoken understanding that he was to rise to the occasion and do so with responsibility.

    Hernandez was always mindful of his siblings — bearing the gentle leadership of watching over them. It was his younger sister to whom he felt most responsible for. This care for his sister reflected the values his mother had taught him: to maintain a clean and relaxed home, but above all, to always be committed to family.

    Hernandez's family values guided his actions, especially his decision to join the Marine Corps, following in his father's footsteps. The Corps, a melting pot of its own, resonated with his upbringing, allowing him to connect with others who shared similar stories of resilience and aspiration.

    “Now, being a Marine, I know that there’s more to it than what most people think. You bring it back down to the basics, you are your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper,” said Hernandez.

    In the Marines, Hernandez found a new family, extending the values he learned at home to his fellow servicemembers.

    “The people who are close to me, they know what I keep close,” said Hernandez. “It’s family. If I saw you as a family or a friend, you would just know that I would protect you in a certain way. I look out for those who look out for me. If you're under my wing, I, as a corporal, take more initiative. Those are my guys. I look out for them. I won't back down for nothing and that's the same thing I would do for my family.”

    Hernandez now looks forward. Ahead of him lies the path of honor, trodden by his father, marked by the footprints of those who came before. Behind him, the faces of his family, their cultures and traditions rest on his shoulders. He understands that his heritage shapes not just his future but also that of the generations to come.

    In the Marine Corps, these diverse backgrounds aren't just accepted; they are celebrated. This approach recognizes that individuals from various backgrounds bring unique perspectives, skills, and experiences. It is seen as a connection that bridges the U.S. with other nations, fostering trust and understanding.

    “I definitely say the Marine Corps has been built up on the people,” said Hernandez. “If there’s no people, there is no Marine Corps.”

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    Cpl. Christopher Hernandez is a combat videographer with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

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    U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South is the U.S. Marine Corps component of U.S. Southern Command, responsible for building and maintaining relationships with our allies and partner nations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. We build capabilities and capacity with like-minded democratic nations through a range of military engagements and other security cooperation events to demonstrate the value and utility of the Navy and Marine Corps team through joint and mutually supporting operations and engagements. We cultivate partnerships across the region to promote the rule of law, which is essential for security, stability, economic prosperity, and personal liberty. Additionally, strong partnerships, shared knowledge, and joint and multinational interoperability enables burden sharing and crisis response while strengthening our common defense, fostering stability, and defeating threats.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 01.25.2024
    Date Posted: 01.26.2024 14:52
    Story ID: 462407
    Location: US

    Web Views: 524
    Downloads: 2

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