MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – Born just over the border in El Paso, Texas, Graciela Tiscareno-Sato was the eldest of five children born to first-generation immigrants.
“Never heard of (the military). When your mom and dad are from Mexico, and you’re a kid of immigrants, no one in your family ever served. So, it was a foreign concept,” Tiscareno-Sato recalled.
Going to school in northern Colorado, she learned early on what the path to her American dream would look like.
“[My classmates] all would go to Paris and Austria and Germany and Hawaii for vacations, so I thought, ‘I want to travel.’ But we always packed the car, and went to Mexico in a car, right?” she said.
“So, the way it came about was after visiting their houses and noticing what they all had in common to be able to travel, was college-educated parents. I thought, ‘Ah, how can I go to college?'” Tiscareno-Sato said.
That’s when Graciela started asking questions; how could she someday take her children on vacations to Europe?
Graciela found that answer in an unexpected place; the high school’s guidance counselor and her husband, a Major in the U.S. Air Force.
“She invited me to her house for dinner, and she said, ‘Let my husband tell you how he got out of Appalachia.’ And that’s how I learned about the Air Force ROTC Scholarship,” she said.
With that mentorship, Graciela was on her way, in another packed-up car, to UC Berkley on that same ROTC Scholarship. The irony; halfway through that schooling, she still had never been on a plane.
“Twenty years old, halfway through college, finally on an airplane. I realized what I’d been missing. And so, I did, I went back, and I said, ‘Hey, I want to fly, what do I do?’ And then the Air Force chose me to go to undergraduate navigator school. So, that’s how it happened,” Tiscareno-Sato said.
One of 32 students, the only woman, and the only Latina, Graciela had finally earned her wings- and a degree in Environmental Design.
And from there, her career took flight.
Deploying to four continents over nine years, a senior instructor and crewmember aboard an aerial refueling tanker, Graciela realized how far she’d come.
“You find yourself on a crew, on a plane, just the four of you on this military airplane, and then you go to the other side of the world. And that’s when you realize, ‘There’s nobody else here. I am fully qualified to be here,'” she recalled. “And that first trip is where it really started to dawn on me, what a special thing I was doing, and how bizarre it was that I was doing it, coming where I came from.”
That idea led Graciela down another path; sharing her story, with the children who have dreams like she once did.
And there begins Graciela’s next chapter; Captain Mama, a name inspired by her youngest son after seeing her in uniform for the first time.
“I stayed up all night, literally until four in the morning. And around 3 in the morning I said, ‘Oh my God, has anyone ever written a book in English and Spanish for Moms flying an airplane?’ That’s what I need to do,” said Tiscareno-Sato.
So, that’s what she did. But the Captain Mama book series is about much more than just mothers flying planes.
“If we do literature in two languages and we start having those conversations early on, then millions more kids can start imagining that potential for themselves,” she said.
Graciela travels the country, going to Air Shows like EAA, and spreading the word in English and Spanish that anything is possible with a mentor.
That a little girl whose parents immigrated to the U.S. with a dream, can do anything she sets her mind to.
“Know that you can do it, do not believe the people who tell you that you can’t, that’s equally as important. And, with mentorship, you will be able to do it because we’ve already done it. That’s it, be proactive and go get it,” she said.
To learn more about the Captain Mama book series, click here.