Thanks to Kayla McKinney over at the ASU Lodestar Center blog for getting us hip to Michael Soto’s post on his AmeriCorps service, and its connection to his own family history. Michael Soto just completed his second year Fellowship at Public Allies Arizona, where he served with the Arizona Citizens for the Arts.
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to serve my country. My mother served her country by joining the Army at the age of 18. She served at Carlisle Barracks and the Pentagon in the Women’s Army Corps during the Vietnam War. As a child I remember sneaking into her bureau to pin her Army medals on my chest and parade around like a soldier.
Her service didn’t end with the Army. She was an example for me throughout my childhood, bringing me along as she volunteered at soup kitchens, with the LDS cannery, and in the Scouts. My desire to emulate my mother through service to my country only increased as I grew older.
When I was a junior in high school, I received a recruitment call from the US Military Academy at West Point. My mother tried to hide her excitement as she handed me the phone, but her eyes lit up. What mother wouldn’t proud for their child to attend West Point?
I wasn’t able to attend West Point, nor serve in the military. I am a transgender man, and for years I thought my gender identity meant I could not serve my country. Then, one lucky day, a friend told me about Public Allies, and I realized that I could serve my country — through AmeriCorps.
Today, I am about two-thirds of the way through my second term of national service in Public Allies Arizona and AmeriCorps. I’ve given approximately 2,900 hours of work for America since 2009. I can’t tell you what an honor it has been to serve my country. Public Allies and AmeriCorps have made it possible for me to accomplish my dream and serve the United States of America.
A few months ago, I was shopping at the local grocery market, wearing my AmeriCorps sweatshirt. I was lost in my shopping list, trying to find the steak sauce, butter lettuce and instant mashed potatoes. An older man walked up to me, squared his solders to mine, extended his hand and said, “Young man, thank you for your service.” I looked at him, like a deer in headlights, so he clarified: “My son served in AmeriCorps and I think our country needs more young people who believe in and work for America.” I agreed with him and thanked him, with a hoarse voice, a handshake and a nod.
I give my mother all the credit. She taught me, by example, the most important values in my life: service to my country, service to my community, and service to those in need. And I thank Americorps for being the answer to my lifelong wish of serving my country. I hope to teach my own children, someday, all that I’ve learned about service and citizenship.