a Mexican-American student must revoke home citizenship to serve.
COLUMBIA, MO. - When Pedro Azuara-Heredia applied for eventual admission to the US Army last spring, he had no idea what he had to lose.
At first glance, Azuara-Heredia is not unlike other freshmen at MU - enrolled in ROTC, a political science student, president of his dorm and crunched for time. But there’s more.
Azuara-Heredia’s journey to American citizenship lasted six years. Prior to receiving official citizenship, he visited the States via a 6-month travel visa. For two years, he traveled back-and-forth to attend school in Windsor, Missouri. He says the transition to the US was difficult to adjust to.
“I lived in a big city in Mexico and I came here and its small, its cold, the houses are different, there’s people outside riding around on horses. It was just really funky,” he said.
Azuara-Heredia and his younger sister, Arantza, were the only Mexicans in his small town school. He says students would ask him where he came from and if he could say certain things in Spanish.
“We were like an endangered species,” he said.
By summer of 2018, Azuara-Heredia was officially a Mexican-American citizen. He was free to travel between the two countries with no time restraints, but didn’t realize this dual citizenship would only last for a short time. To actively serve as a pilot in the US Army, Azuara-Heredia must surrender his Mexican citizenship. This issue will take effect when he graduates from MU and is granted confidential clearance. Still, he says the thought looms in his mind.
Part of a whole
As a young child, living in the Mexican city of Mi Hermosa Tabasco, Azuara-Heredia was an active boy. From running around, to playing with toy weapons, Azuara-Heredia has always been aware of military culture.
“Back in Mexico I used to play with toy guns all the time, and just do all that kind of military stuff,” he said.
Azuara-Heredia also has familial history with the service. “I had an aunt that went into the military and she liked it,” he said. “I thought ‘oh hey, that looks kind of cool.’”
Fast forward to high school, Azuara-Heredia is now enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, JROTC, a preliminary activity that familiarizes young people with ROTC as they transition to college.
Before long, with boots and all, he would be walking past Jesse Hall and making his way around MU decked in full ROTC attire. From 6 a.m. workouts, known as PT, to eating meals at the Plaza 900 with ROTC students, Azuara-Heredia has enveloped himself in the life of service.
“We’re all together in one group, we all suffer together,” he said. “You just kind of bond.”
Hardship with humor
Azuara-Heredia often jokes about his personal experience with early morning ROTC routines.
Vote for Pedro
While most of Azuara-Heredia’s college career is occupied with ROTC, he still finds time to involve himself in other aspects of campus. At the beginning of his freshman year, Azuara-Heredia campaigned for Hatch Hall President, despite his initial humorous hesitance.
“Me and my roommate talked about it over the summer,” he said. “I figured I might as well.”
As the president of a residence hall and a member of the Missouri Student Association, MSA, Azuara-Heredia has a full schedule. This doesn’t discourage him from trying new things.
“I know back in like 2012 there was a whole, like, ‘YOLO’ thing going on,” he said. “But I mean, it’s true. You really do only get to live once. I figure, I might as well get the most out of it.”
Azuara-Heredia finds himself in numerous leadership roles on campus. He hopes to transfer this role into his future in the Army.
“I think being a leader means, you know, putting your own needs aside,” he said. “In worrying about your team, and helping them become more than what they are by providing purpose, direction and motivation.”
a unknown future
ROTC is one of Azuara-Heredia’s passions. Upon joining, he did not know what he had to lose for the career he wanted. When an ROTC recruit from the University of Central Missouri came to his high school, Azuara-Heredia knew that committing to ROTC was demanding. That recruit would reveal a key fact for his future. In order to serve in the Army, one must be a US citizen, and only a US citizen.
Despite his stronger connection to Mexico, Azuara-Heredia is confident in his decision to pursue the Army. He says the loss will benefit his career.
His family believes that the Army is a dangerous occupation. Although he rejected their stereotypical notions, they are still concerned.
In addition, Azuara-Heredia will not be able to return to Mexico to visit family or friends until after his retirement from the Army, upon receiving a travel visa. Even though his family is hesitant to accept his fate, he knows they support him.
Azuara-Heredia says he has come to terms with the loss, but it will always be on his mind. He will always have Mexico, his home, in his heart, no matter what his citizenship is defined as.
Story and audio by Caitlin Brenner, Janelle Finch and Jacob Moscovitch
Photos by Jacob Moscovitch