She is a fighter, a believer, a college athlete, an Army Cadet, and she is a Latina. She is one of the few to take on a journey that most, if not all, would consider to be rare and irrational.
Cadet Jessica Soto was born on April 29, 1995 in El Paso, Texas. She grew up in the small town of San Elizario, Texas where she developed into the multi-talented young lady that she is now. Growing up she dodged all the negativity that was thrown at her, which only caused her to become more determined and focused than those around her.
She is one of the few women to have been accepted into one of the nation’s most prestigious military academies known as West Point, which is located in West Point, New York-approximately 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River.
West Point Military Academy (USMA) only takes in the nation’s most outstanding students. Not only do the students have to have exceptional grades to be admitted, but they also select students who are physically fit and have proof of leadership skills. Students that are accepted into the academy receive fully paid scholarships and a monthly income. Alex Hinojosa, an El Paso Times journalist, reported that West Point received about 15,000 applications in 2013, and only 194 of the 1,200 cadets that were accepted were women.
Jess, as her closest friends call her, was one of the two women from El Paso to get admitted. Latinitas sat down with Cadet Soto to learn more about her inspirational story.
Q: What can you tell me about yourself-family, growing up, and achievements?
A: “I was always around boys because I was the youngest of three and I was the only girl. My parents are very traditional, typical Mexican parents; they have an old school mentality and they always thought I should clean up after my brothers, and, of course, I just never had any of it…I grew up around boys, always playing sports and I like to think that it was sports that taught me a lot of what I learned about myself. It taught me how to be a leader and how to work hard for what I want, to ultimately be the best in anything. Not saying that I was the best, but that was always what I aimed for. I focused a lot of my time on becoming faster, stronger than anyone because I wanted to get out of here and play elsewhere. I thought sports were my only way out, which is why I tried my best in school, to sell myself to colleges and universities. I’d like to say that my biggest accomplishment has been an impact on younger girls that I played with, having someone look up to you and try to emulate you is…priceless.”
Q: At what point in your life did you decide that West Point was for you?
A: ”There came a point in my high school career when I realized that I didn’t want to play in college. I loved sports, but it became more of a job to me because of the people around me who EXPECTED me to play D1 . I read a book called “Battle Dress” by Amy Efaw and it was based on a girl’s experience of being a cadet in basic training at West Point. Two weeks later, one of my teachers had a presentation about West Point and, as a second semester Junior, it became important to me to begin the application process. At first I only applied because [after] hearing how hard it was to get in I became curious to know if I was good enough to go there. As I became more engulfed, I realized West Point was the perfect place for me. Soon enough, no other school compared to West Point so I didn’t apply anywhere else.”
Q: What was your reaction when you read the acceptance letter?
A: ”It took me a long time to receive my appointment because of my asthma. I was medically disqualified for months. It took so many doctor visits and pulmonary exams to finally get a waiver. The state senator denied me a nomination and you need one to even be considered as a candidate, but Reyes gave it to me before he left office. When I finally got it, I was the happiest in the world! I felt like all the weight was off my shoulders and all that stress had finally paid off. I still remember the exact date, April 16, 2013.”
Q: What was going through your head when you had to say goodbye to your loved ones?
A: “I was so scared. I began questioning if I had what it takes to make it through there. My volleyball coach told me the day I left, ‘Don’t you dare come back here without a diploma in your hand. You owe it to these girls that look up to you and this community that has given you everything.’ I just didn’t want to let anyone down, but I was excited and focused. I felt ready to take on anything that would get thrown at me, the same way I took on any other challenge I had ever faced before… with a strong mind, leaving it all in God’s hands.”
Q: What challenges have you faced since your arrival at West Point, and are there any other Latinas that attend as well?
A: “I got made fun of for lacking military knowledge, and my accent was also made fun of. People were very ignorant about my Latin culture. I struggled academically; being a woman in an institution [whose population is] 14% women is hard. We are objectified even though they advocate equality. The profession itself is tough for women. I had two major surgeries in one semester because of rugby. There are few Latinas there, but they aren’t as culturally sound as I am. They didn’t grow up in a border town, some don’t even speak a hint of Spanish, and if they do it’s very broken.”
Q: What advice do you give to young Latinas?
A: “My advice would be to have no limits, you have a dream, you go out, and you make it a reality. There will always be people who will tell you that it is out of your reach, but no one can set limits as to what you can accomplish but yourself. Step outside of your comfort zone, that’s where the magic happens. It takes courage to stand up for yourself, to go out and do it. Sometimes even those closest to you will think it’s impossible, but if you have the right intentions and the Lord sees it fit and if you work hard and never settle, then there is no saying what you cannot accomplish. Once you accomplish that then you make a new goal, the key is to never be content with yourself or be complacent. Never let your gender or race be a setback, embrace it and use it as a motivator.”
Cadet Soto is the perfect example of the American Dream. She broke both gender and cultural barriers in one of the most tedious professions, and was admitted to a highly prestigious school rare to women. Jessica Soto is proof that if you’re passionate and determined enough, your dreams will become a reality. She is an inspiration to not only Latinas but women in general looking to protect the country they call home.