Airman's AAPI and Black background embodies heritage, hope

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Enriquez
  • 113th Communications Squadron, D.C. Air National Guard

Staff Sgt. Tiara Hartley is familiar as the “face” of the customer service desk at the 113th Communications Flight, 113th Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, where she's a client systems analyst. 2021 Wing Civilian Employee of the Year, Hartley has since transitioned into the Communications Focal Point role as a uniformed full-time National Guard member.

Describing herself as appearing ethnically ambiguous, Hartley is comfortable with people asking about her background.

“People are like ‘Are you Hawaiian or this or that?’ and I’m not offended, I’m like ‘Just ask me, I’m that serious,’” she says, laughing.

Growing up in the District with Black and Filipino parents, Hartley associates her Asian American Pacific Islander heritage with food traditions. Since a young age, she’s helped her mother prepare annual feasts of lumpia and pancit for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Everybody knows about her pancit– even to the point where my dad’s side of the family will put in an order before we go to visit. ”

Thinking back on her family’s’ past generations, however, Hartley acknowledges social integration has not always been this possible:

“I had this epiphany a couple years back– because I’m Black and I’m also Filipino. The Philippines were conquered by Spain, and Black people were enslaved in this country. I thought to myself ‘Both sides were slaves at one point in time.’”

This historical perspective makes Hartley grateful for being able to serve in uniform and participate in a freer U.S. society.

“I would say it’s amazing to go from this kind of oppression to being able to serve your country and have these freedoms. That’s why I had that epiphany. I was like, ‘Honestly where I could’ve been versus where I am now– that’s kind of wild.”

To Hartley, the military can be seen as a system that exposes its members to people with very different backgrounds and behaviors, and gaining understanding through things like AAPI Heritage Month is important.

“We should all really have a sense of self, of understanding who we are and what we bring to (an) organization,” she says.

Further, by forging new paths and gaining representation, people from diverse backgrounds can let others know what is possible.

“I think future generations are really going to see all the things they can actually do. There are so many career fields out there that I never knew existed until I saw someone out there doing it. And if you see someone that looks like you doing it, now it’s open to you.”