Hispanic Heritage Month: Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo

Each year, the President of the United States designates September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month – a national celebration of the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month 2011, Coast Guard Compass has asked Rear Adm. Joseph “Pepe” Castillo, Eleventh District commander, about his heritage and the role diversity plays in the service.

Rear Adm. Joseph "Pepe" Castillo, Eleventh District commander, takes the helm of a 41-foot utility boat from Station Los Angeles-Long Beach during a tour of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Rear Adm. Joseph "Pepe" Castillo, Eleventh District commander, takes the helm of a 41-foot utility boat from Station Los Angeles-Long Beach during a tour of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Written by Rear Adm. Joseph “Pepe” Castillo, Eleventh District commander.

My ancestors on my father’s side came to the United States from Cuba. My great grandfather – Papa Joe – was born to Cuban parents in Florida. He wanted to fit in, and as many immigrants did during that time, he tried his best to ensure his family didn’t look or sound “foreign.” So he wore the accepted clothing, participated in the local events and did not raise his children to speak Spanish. He subscribed to the melting pot approach of immigration – where everyone strives to look and sound like everyone else.

I submit that there is a better approach – a heritage stew, if you will. You see in a melting pot, everything loses its own identity and uniqueness. Imagine your dinner in a blender – all the vegetables, meat, salad, condiments and dessert – pureed together into the same texture, consistency and flavor. Kind of curbs your appetite, doesn’t it?

Click on the above image to see a video of Rear Adm. Joseph "Pepe" Castillo and other Coast Guard members discussing Project Hernandez, a deck-plate level historical research and documentation effort to find and preserve information, documents and artifacts related to Coast Guard Hispanic heritage. U.S. Coast Guard video by Eleventh District Public Affairs.

Click on the above image to see a video of Rear Adm. Joseph "Pepe" Castillo and other Coast Guard members discussing Project Hernandez, a deck-plate level historical research and documentation effort to find and preserve information, documents and artifacts related to Coast Guard Hispanic heritage. U.S. Coast Guard video by Eleventh District Public Affairs.

A stew is much more interesting. Ingredients retain much of their shape, but they are also changed by the presence of other components – they absorb flavors from other ingredients and create new ones. The potatoes soften and the sharp corners round off, the sauce thickens and becomes filled with small, juicy pieces of meat and vegetables. Nothing in the stew is left unchanged by the presence of the other ingredients – yet nothing is overwhelmed and left shut out. And best of all, the final product is much more delicious than the individual ingredients.

Rear Adm. Jospeh "Pepe" Castillo, Eleventh District commander, speaks at the Coast Guard Island Gym naming ceremony in honor of Emlen Lewis Tunnell. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Fireman Jordan Akiyama.

Rear Adm. Jospeh "Pepe" Castillo, Eleventh District commander, speaks at the Coast Guard Island Gym naming ceremony in honor of Emlen Lewis Tunnell. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Fireman Jordan Akiyama.

The point is: We don’t need to look alike and think alike to live and work together – we simply need to be unified by common values and goals. It would be a dull and ineffective workplace if we were all the same. The differences do make a difference. Diversity makes us stronger and leads to better decision-making – because we see more of the options and possibilities.

My ethnic background is Hispanic but that does not describe who I am. Who am I? I’m a husband, a father, a brother, a son…a boss, an employee, a friend, a volunteer. The things we do define who we are. My ethnic background is important to me, but it’s not who I am. It’s not the whole of me, but it’s a part of me that makes me different than I would be without it, and I’m richer for it.

Life is busy, but take the time to learn more about your own culture and the cultures around you – to see through someone else’s eyes; to ask questions rather than make assumptions. Strive to learn about the differences and similarities that we all share, that make us individually unique and organizationally stronger.

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  • Timothy E. Tilghman, CGA 75

    Well said, Admiral, well said. The stew analogy – we don’t lose our identity, our culture, but thru unity around a common theme, can make the meal and/or the mission better – is good, powerful and worthy of repeating and practicing in our Service and in our society. Thanks for sharing the wisdom.

    By the way – 30+ years, it is the first time I heard the Joe “Pepe” Castillo. Wish you the best.

  • Dan Onisko

    Bravo Admiral Castillo,
    Having been born and raised and served in the military I never thought about “other” nationaltys. We were all Americans, in the same boat headed to the same place. This was true as a USAF brat and as a Coast Guardmans.
    However, I have never heard put so well ! Best stew there is !

  • CDR Luis E. Martinez, D7

    Admiral, great analogy sir! Got me a little hungry though thinking of “sancocho” (PR). In my 33 plus years in the Coast Guard (both reserve and active duty) I have often found it best to live by the same vision that you subscribe to. Thank you for your leadership and for sharing your stew with us.

  • MKCS Norman J. Gillis, D8

    Admiral, excellent uniformity. Your stew analogy of heritage and culture diversity is how I’ve thought early in life, and more so as Coast Guardmans. “The things we do define who we are; and diversity makes us stronger”. Diversity is a family culture of its own and your excellent “stew” words of wisdom maybe the very essence that facilitate belief and support in us all. Well said, Thanks.

  • Terri V

    I really enjoyed this analogy and I think God is pleased with us when we value the differences between us and blend our lives. We all benefit when this attitude prevails.

  • Nick Tarlson

    What a great explanation and analogy of the benefits of cultural diversity and risks of forced assimilation! Admiral Castillo is a great leader and example. Modest, unassuming, intelligent, analytical. An asset and resource for the Coast Guard and the San Francisco Bay community.