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HISPANIC HERITAGE: Opportunities abound

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Airman 1st Class Andrea Cañas, a dental laboratory technician from the 21st Dental Squadron, files down high points on a retainer at the Dental Lab at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 12, 2016, to fit properly when worn. Cañas was born in the U.S., but was raised in El Salvador. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Airman 1st Class Andrea Cañas, a dental laboratory technician from the 21st Dental Squadron, files down high points on a retainer at the Dental Lab at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Sept. 12, 2016, to fit properly when worn. Cañas was born in the U.S., but was raised in El Salvador. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Airman 1st Class Andrea Cañas, a dental laboratory technician from the 21st Dental Squadron, stands in front of the Tazumal Ruins in El Salvador during a visit. Cañas was raised in El Salvador, but lives in the U.S. after joining the Air Force when she was 22 years old. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Airman 1st Class Andrea Cañas, a dental laboratory technician from the 21st Dental Squadron, stands in front of the Tazumal Ruins in El Salvador during a visit. Cañas was raised in El Salvador, but lives in the U.S. after joining the Air Force when she was 22 years old. (U.S. Air Force photo by Philip Carter)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- September 15 begins the Department of Defense’s observation of Hispanic Heritage month, and Airman 1st Class Andrea Cañas, a dental technician from the 21st Dental Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., is an Airman whose heritage has had a positive impact on her career.

Cañas was born in the U.S., but lived in El Salvador until she was 20 years old. Her family came to the U.S. to escape a civil war that began in 1979. By the mid-1980s, it had gotten so dangerous that her family, including her mom, dad and their siblings fled to the United States.

Her family moved back to El Salvador when she was 2 years old because her dad started to have health issues. The family would have more support from her extended family back in El Salvador.

“We grew up down in El Salvador, but during the summertime my mom would send my siblings and I to vacation with either one of my uncles,” said Cañas.

Two of her uncles were in the military, one in the Army and the other in the Marines. Visiting them meant traveling to the different bases they were stationed while in the continental U.S.

“It was great for us because we got to see so much of America and to experience the military lifestyle,” she said. “I was also grateful to experience the differences between the two cultures, which not a lot of people get to see.”

Cañas graduated high school and took some college courses in El Salvador, but when it was time for her to start looking for a job, the economy was not doing well. She decided to move to the United States and try her luck here.

At age 21, she moved to Alabama where she had family. She started searching for jobs but it ended up being more difficult than she expected.

“It was kind of like starting over,” said Cañas. “It was rough but worth it.”

The experiences of visiting her uncles in the military had such a great impact on her life, she decided to join one of the military services. Her uncles told her because of the person she is, the Air Force or the Navy would be the only fit for her.

“I joined the Air Force 11 months after coming to America.” said Cañas.

Cañas joined the Air Force as open general and received a list of jobs to choose from. When she looked at the list, she said she had no idea what she wanted to do, but was interested in the dental lab technician.

“I definitely knew I wanted to do something in medical,” said Cañas. “It’s been really cool because it’s a smaller career field and it’s definitely something that can be applied after the military.”

Cañas’s career benefited from her heritage and the traditions she grew up with. They were centered on family and faith. Most of Cañas’s family lived very close and would gather on a weekly basis for a meal or to watch soccer.

El Salvador is a very Catholic community and is centered around the different church holidays, she said. The thing she took away from her heritage is the need to help people through giving of her time.

“I really enjoy volunteering, said Cañas. “If I have something I can give or share that actually improves someone else’s life, I do it.”

Editor’s note: This is part one of a five-part series highlighting Hispanic Airmen for Hispanic Heritage Month.

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