A first-generation gay American Latina will get her pin-on insignia as Ensign this week.
Marcia Villavicencio is getting prepared for the biggest day of her life so far. It's not a birthday milestone or a wedding or even the birth of a child. Marcia is getting commissioned as a Naval officer after 15 years of service and as a first-generation gay American Latina the journey from enlisted member to an officer spans countries and time zones.
Originally from Peru, Marcia, 34, moved to the humid shores of Florida as a teenager and even though she was self-conscious of her broken English, she joined the Navy. That decision would eventually lead her to San Diego where she has remained a part of the LGBT community helping people discover for themselves the power of pride.
Marcia knows first-hand how hard it is to challenge yourself. She literally made her way to success from the ground up.
Before she became the only female gunner on her ship, her Naval career encompassed a lot of grunt work, primarily odd jobs, and janitorial duties.
"It consisted of doing maintenance on the ship, painting and sweeping decks, it was hard work and wasn't fun at all," she explains. "So making it all the way up to becoming a Commissioned Officer is a huge deal! It took me 15 years, but all that experience that I now have under my belt made it all worth it."
Eventually, Marcia would travel almost 3,000 miles to San Diego, never forgetting how hard she worked to come so far.
"I love that San Diego LGBT community is so vibrant and loud," she says. "We aren't afraid to show the world who we are."
Once in San Diego she drew from her experiences and accomplishments and was driven to give back to the community, in some way. Then it hit her.
Marcia is also a health and fitness trainer who shows clients how they too can harness their inner strength and lead healthier lives with confidence.
"As a fitness and mindset coach, I love seeing people reach their goals and transform not just physically, but also mentally," Marcia says, pointing out that she is also a dancer. "The mindset shift that happens is the most rewarding part. As a Latina, LGBT member and military woman; it motivates me to know that I can be a great leader, an example to other young women aspiring to reach for their goals."
Another power she discovered in San Diego is the power of love. Her fiance Brittany is a San Diego Deputy Sheriff and they have been together for almost three years. With Brittany's support, Marcia makes sure to serve the community altruistically whenever possible. She has volunteered for San Diego Pride and other community events as a performer
"My community is near and dear to my heart," she says, "Hillcrest accepted me with open arms when I came out of the closet at 22 years old, and it has been the most supportive and loving community I could've ever found. I also give my time to veterans and military members as a fitness and mindset coach."
There are still some memories that hurt. One is about something she has since overcome but holds within it a lesson of how the power of prejudice can be used to fuel perseverance. Back in Miami Marcia was constantly teased because of her distinctive accent. She recalls people saying it wasn't "American enough."
"But when I arrived in San Diego, and people noticed my accent, it became a positive trait so now I love it--I totally embrace it," she says adding that her fiance loves it too.
Even with all of its inclusivity, Marcia says America's Finest City could use some life coaching "I would love to see more inclusivity and respect," she says. "I believe we are already moving towards this, but we can continue to improve. We are all different, so we must respect and love each other."
Now after a decade and a half, Marcia is finally being rewarded for her hard work. On October 12, at the USS Midway Museum, she will embark on another phase of her life and enter the junior rank of a commissioned officer.
"My fiance will be pinning my Ensign bars and my sister will be the one to give me my first salute," she says. "It will be an empowering event for Latina women and for women in the LGBT community! My family is flying into town for this, and I will have my close friends there celebrating with me as well. This is such a huge milestone."
Although Marcia may not classify herself as a superhero in the comic book sense, there is no doubt that she is still a Wonder Woman. Her journey is much like that of Diana Prince, she came from a faraway land and was immediately judged. She serves her country and in doing so helps others defeat their inner supervillains.
Becoming a commissioned officer is definitely not the end of Marcia's story, like any good hero there's always another chapter.
"I know there's a bigger purpose for me in this life," Marcia says. "This is just the beginning."