Hector Santos was one of two speakers Thursday, joining Edgar R. Maldonado at the fourth annual Honoring Latino Military Heroes event in the Morgan University Center Ballroom, as part of Latinx Heritage Month on the campus of Austin Peay State University. | THE ALL STATE PHOTO

An afternoon of community, storytelling, and honoring Latino military heroes as Latinx Heritage Month comes to an end. 

This was the fourth annual Honoring Latino Military Heroes event on Thursday from 1-2 p.m. in the Morgan University Center Ballroom. The event was held by the Newton Military Family Resource Center and the Latino Community Resource Center.

This year, two speakers were present to share their stories, Edgar R. Maldonado and Hector Santos. The pair presented tales from their lives, both in and out of their time in the military. Maldonaldo is a US Marine and Army veteran while Santos is retired from the Army. 

Both men were asked to share some of the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. Maldonaldo detailed growing up poor in the Bronx and finding himself in the middle of the events of 9/11. When discussing adversities Maldonaldo said, “I did not allow them to define me.”

Santos described growing up homeless in Puerto Rico and not speaking English when he joined the Army. “I didn’t want to fail. And when you had nothing, you make this work,” Santos said.

Later, they discussed how they believe their heritage played into their success. Maldonaldo noted his mother’s strict and hard-working qualities that drove him to better himself. “It was almost like a constant nagging in my head of her,” Maldonaldo said.

Both men saw the military as the only way out of their situations. Neither knew what they wanted to do when they grew up or how they could afford to get an education. However, they both later attended university and got their degrees. 

Maldonaldo retired from the Army in 2015 when he was diagnosed with cancer. He later took the opportunity to attend Austin Peay State University and now has a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor’s in Marketing, Business Management, and Related Support Services. 

Meanwhile, Santos began taking online courses while he served. College was a challenge and he found himself dropping out of many classes. However, he felt that he needed to set an example for the soldiers serving under him. “I can show my soldiers that this can be done,” Santos said. Today, he has a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College. 

Finding motivation to keep going, whether serving in the military or getting an education, was another topic of discussion. The pair offered their wisdom on this challenge, noting the importance of remembering why you want to reach a goal and knowing that life is what you make of it. 

In his closing remarks, Maldonaldo summed up his life experience with an encouraging sentiment, saying, “And I say to everyone, are you gonna be the victim of those adversities or are you gonna stand tall and say ‘No, these adversities, this does not define me. I’m gonna be better.’ And I challenge everyone to be better.” 

Santos reminded students that there are plenty of support services available in universities, even when you come from nothing. He emphasized the importance of disadvantaged students receiving support in getting their education.

He tied it back to his own experience, joking he served in the Army for so long because he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he grew up. “We just have to recognize who those kids are before we lose them,” Santos said.