BREMERTON, Wash. –
It was a submarine in a television commercial that prompted Alex Cervantes, employee development program manager, Code 1181 Command University, to consider joining the Navy and ultimately becoming a Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility teammate.
“The Navy was a vehicle for me: travel opportunities, education opportunities, personal growth and financial stability,” said Cervantes, who wanted to help his family while being financially independent.
Cervantes, who refers to himself as an ABC (American-born Colombian), was one of the few Hispanics in the Navy’s nuclear program during the era when the first females were going through. While serving as a nuclear machinist mate, he was introduced to many other Latin Hispanic cultures not common in his native New York City.
“In New York, different ethnic and racial groups led lives of co-existence rather than integration,” said Cervantes. On the other hand, “the Navy was a model of integration.”
The Navy brought Cervantes to Kitsap in 1998 and he opted to stay when he finished serving in 2000. An outdoorsman, Cervantes appreciated the diverse terrain and recreation opportunities throughout the state from the ocean to the mountains to the fields of Eastern Washington. He also found the communities within the county attractive.
“Bremerton had a small town quality but city qualities like nightlife and museums,” he said. “Poulsbo. Bainbridge Island. Port Orchard. So many little communities with unique traits. It’s like having Seattle benefits but without the costs.”
Cervantes worked elsewhere until a friend encouraged him to apply at the shipyard. He had more than one offer from the shipyard but choose a helper position in Code 730, Crane Maintenance, because of the “good energy”.
Since then, Cervantes has taken on positions with increasing responsibilities while completing his Associates, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and graduating from Leadership Kitsap where he now serves as a member of their board of directors. He points out that education is of paramount importance, particularly to immigrant families.
Cervantes is part of only a small number of Hispanics and Latinos who work at the command, however, that number has been steadily increasing in the past four years. The number of males has increased 28 percent while female Hispanic employment has increased 40 percent since 2015. As the numbers increase, Cervantes wants people to understand that Hispanic/Latino is actually an ethnicity, not race. Since they can be of any race or combination of races, people might not realize they’re dealing with a Hispanic person.
It’s important to Cervantes to understand different perspectives and he’s passionate about mentoring others. He also encourages people to push aside assumptions and look inward.
“Be yourself and be culturally aware of other people,” he said. “If you’re reacting a certain way, step back to examine why you are reacting the way you are. Why does the other person think the way they do? Emotions get in our way so ask yourself if I need to calm down a bit.”
Due to the numerous career opportunities at the shipyard, Cervantes thinks Hispanics and others should give the command a try. He encourages people to keep stretching themselves educationally and professionally.
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you,” he said. “If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”