Jose Alberto Morales-Velazquez was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and grew up in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. His mother Elsa Velazquez took care of him and his sisters Delma and Moraima. His father, Roberto Morales, owned a local grocery store and video store.
When Morales-Velazquez was young, he would hang around the store after school to work on homework, play and snack. After that, he would go to the video store and spend the rest of the day talking to customers, watching movies and helping run the store.
Morales-Velazquez remembers coming home from the store to his mother’s home cooked asopao, a delicious rice dish usually served with chicken or beef broth.
It was like we were in another country, but it was still the United States.Jose Alberto Morales-Velazquez
Morales-Velazquez lived in Puerto Rico up until his twenties. On his 21st birthday, he was sworn into the U.S. Air Force. He went to “The Gateway to the Air Force,” AKA Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Morales-Velazquez describes his experience transitioning from Puerto Rico to Texas as jarring.
The first main difference that hit me the most was language. I’m bi-lingual, but I had never lived in a place where everyone spoke English.
Going 24 hours without speaking Spanish was surreal, he says.
Morales-Velazquez says he came from a culture that defined everything around the three main meals.
“That’s how you could tell what time of day it was; by what meal was being served,” he says.
In Texas, he was surprised at how little people cared about meals and down time. Morales-Velazquez was in Texas for roughly five months then went back home for leave. Shortly after, he flew to Wyoming, where he saw snow for the first time. He had never experienced temperatures under 68 degrees Farenheight (15.6 degrees Celsius), and he began to discover there were more coats than hoodies.
Wyoming was cold, wet, and I was completely alone for the first time.
Morales-Velazquez didn’t have any roommates for a week. During that time, he experienced a loneliness like no other. He had to learn a new way of life and had to adjust all his habits.
In 2002, he experienced his first Thanksgiving at a random family’s house in Wyoming. His first thought was, “Where’s the rice?” He was shocked that rice was not being served and, once again, reflected on his culture and family home.
Later that month, he went to the Frontier Mall where he experienced racism for the first time. He was shopping for new sneakers, and the mall employees kept following him around. He was wondering why, and then it hit him. “I had to reflect on the reality of the world, and I broke down.”
One winter day, he was processing through a missile alert facility. The people that were there were doing a staff change, and he was part of an incoming team.
When his credentials were being checked, the flight security controller noticed that his name tag didn’t match with the security clearance paperwork. The paperwork said Morales-Velazquez, but his name tag said Morales. Because of this, the man working security put a gun to his head.
Learn what happens next in part 2, coming tomorrow.