SAN DIEGO – There are currently 25,000 Asian-Americans serving in the US Navy. Sailors of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent have risen through the ranks in the Navy: 3 admirals and 736 master chiefs and senior chief petty officers are of AAPI descent.
Our sister network NBC 7 spoke with two of those executives to see what inspired them to choose their careers. Your answers may not be too surprising.
Choosing a New Path for Your Mother
Petty Officer First Class Maria Almazar currently serves aboard the USS Boxer and joined the Navy twelve years ago. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 14 with his mother and two brothers and immediately joined JROTC in high school.
“When I first immigrated, it was a bit difficult, just because of the language barrier and also to connect with new people, however, I was invited to join JROTC and with that, I was able to find people who I was able to have more confidence in who connected me,” Almazar said.
After three years living in the United States, Almazar enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17. She says it was difficult for her mother to let her go.
“She wasn’t ready, she didn’t want me to leave her side at a young age,” Almazar said.
But her mother’s job as a nurse inspired her to pursue a medical path and she now works as a dentist on the USS Boxer.
“The way they took care of their patients, the way they took care of us, their stories of being able to help other people really inspired me,” she said.
Her mother passed away a year and a half ago, but Almazar says she hopes to follow in her footsteps, chasing her American dream.
“I definitely feel grateful to be the first generation of my family to live here,” she said. “This appreciation definitely helps me become a better boater, work harder, and give back to my community through my service.”
following in his father’s footsteps
A few doors down on the USS Boxer, another sailor is doing the same. Petty Officer Second Class Ian Villalons decided to join the Navy because of his father.
“My dad was in the Navy for 28 years. From the time I was born, I was almost always growing up in the military community,” Willones said.
Villanes’ father joined the US Navy from the Philippines and eventually became an American citizen.
Willons said, “He wanted a better opportunity since he was growing up.”
He served for 28 years, eventually retiring as a senior major. While his father was still in the service, Willons enlisted and gave his father a final salute at his retirement ceremony.
“It was an incredible honor, I was the one who put my dad down for 28 years of service and I pretty much took our name and then just kept it going,” Willones said.
His father’s desire for a better life for his children inspired Villalons to carry on his legacy in the Navy. His goal now is to one day rise through the ranks to become Master Chief, a higher rank than his father achieved.
Willons said, “I could have told my dad, hey, I did it, I went over the top a little bit more, but I think he’d definitely be proud.”