Veronica Lozoya: One Woman’s Story of Overcoming and Following Passion
A Profile on an American-born and American Immigrant
She walks into a room casually. Small in stature, it seems as if it would be easy to overlook her. But underneath her tightly pulled back hair are eyes that can only be described as fiery, burning with a unique passion and drive that has carried her through her entire life and propelled her over every obstacle.
It is never easy being an immigrant in America. Honestly, it’s never easy being an immigrant anywhere. Veronica Lozoya would know. Born in Texas, just 15 minutes away from the Mexican border, Lozoya started off luckier than many other immigrants: she automatically had U.S. citizenship. Her whole family, however, lived in Mexico, and it was here that she spent the first 11 years of her life, as an immigrant.
Her status caught up to her as she changed levels from primary school to grade six. Without legal documents, she would not be able to finish schooling in Mexico. So, her family packed their life into Walmart bags, bought seven one-way Greyhound bus tickets to Florida, and Lozoya returned to the place she “belonged” but had never known.
As an eleven-year-old U.S. citizen, she did not speak one word of English.
“That’s how I started living the American Dream,” said Lozoya. “Initially, it was a nightmare.”
She spent the next three years in Homestead, Florida, learning English from her Haitian friend, who only knew French. A couple of lost souls, just a few hundred miles and a few mispronounced words away from this lifestyle they are expected to adapt to now.
For Lozoya, education is everything. Her father encouraged learning every day. He was her “inspiration,” a constant reminder to achieve, to work towards the next goal. With him as her backbone, she graduated high school, the first in a line of major educational milestones to come.
Her backbone turned out to be losing his own. Without his knowing, his bone marrow was decaying, his own bones turning against him. On the day when he couldn’t stand the pain anymore, Lozoya’s father collapsed; when the doctors confirmed it at leukemia, Veronica’s life stopped short, too. Treatments and technology allowed his life to prolong for two years, but even that was not long enough for Lozoya.
“I never told him, in my entire life that I can recall it…‘I love you dad,’” said Lozoya. “When he was dying, I told him. I gave him a hug, and I meant it. ‘Dad, I love you. I always loved you.’ Because it wasn’t his fault.”
Lozoya’s relationship with her dad, though supportive of her educational career, was a strained one. At age five, Lozoya was molested by her grandmother’s uncle, an act that left her with scars, nightmares she couldn’t understand and an aversion to men.
“I grew up fighting boys and hating men, even my dad,” said Lozoya. “My dad was very loving. And I couldn’t love him back. I couldn’t love him back. He used to tell me, ‘Vero, I just want a hug. I’ll give you a dollar [for it]. I just want a hug.’ When he used to put it like that, I just couldn’t say no. He died not knowing what happened to me.”
For years, Lozoya didn’t know what had happened to her, either. Moving to America came with a fresh start, so fresh that she completely blocked out those tragic memories from her childhood. Overtime, the gruesome nightmares stopped, and as her desire for higher education grew into a burning flame, issues of her past slid from her mind.
Despite the loss of her supportive father, Lozoya was determined to continue her education. She began attending Homestead Day College, getting waivers signed to allow her to take six classes a semester. She began working five jobs to help out her single mother. She made a pact with herself to only sleep three to four hours a night.
One day, as she was taking the public transportation bus to her early morning class, a man attacked her from behind, forcing her into an act of sexual assault. When the police came, she asked to be driven to school instead of the hospital.
“I had already missed one class,” said Lozoya. “I wasn’t going to miss another one.”
With blood in her hair, she continued her education. When she told her family later what had happened, her brother gave up his car. When she told her classmate what happened, he taught her how to drive in just three days.
When Lozoya went to sleep at night, the nightmares from her childhood returned. She could not understand why.
As the grind for her education continued, Lozoya found herself burning out.
Sleep eluded her more now than ever, and eventually she turned to therapy. Through many sessions of questioning the nightmares and the situation, Lozoya’s counselor was able to unlock the memories of her childhood that had been buried. With this unlocking, came freedom, and another fresh start.
Lozoya knew that, even with the ridding of the nightmares and access to sleep again, she could not continue as she had been.
“What stopped me was my physical body. I was draining myself,” said Lozoya. “But I felt the sensation that I got to do it. I couldn’t even think. But physically, I was killing myself.”
So, she turned to the dream inside herself that she had never allowed herself to consider: joining the military. Her father had been sternly averse to any of his children joining the military, so Lozoya had decided against it as an option. Eventually her passion for learning and her need for a healthier option won over her father’s rules, and she joined the Air Force.
She entered in with two ranks thanks to her college credits. Over the next 21 years, she traveled from base to base, seeking higher positions and more opportunities. When she climbed to the top position in one office and could not be promoted any further, she left to find a different office where she could.
“I couldn’t even sleep because I wanted it so badly that I was aching, I was burning,” said Lozoya.
She spent time overseas in Germany, where she had her only daughter, Desirae. She met a man and got married, taking time off from the military to support her husband and attend college full-time. By the time her daughter was five, though, Lozoya realized she had made a mistake in marrying her husband.
When she divorced him, she found herself with nowhere to go. Her family, with whom she had been distant since her father’s death, did not take her in. Her mother, who is a devout Catholic and disapproved of divorce, blamed Lozoya for the issues. For a while, she was homeless, living out of her car.
Eventually, she returned to the military and found stable work again. She continued to pursue the highest position possible, working untold and unpaid hours to achieve what she wanted.
In 2015, she made Chief of the Homestead, Florida base, the highest rank in the Air Force. Only one percent of those in the military make it to Chief. She made it into that one percent. The previous 22 Chiefs before her had been men. She was the first Latina woman in Homestead, ever. The average time to achieve Chief status is 25 years. She did it in 19.
Now, she’s up for retirement, an option she says she won’t even consider until she’s been in the military for 33 years. To her, her airmen have become a family she never got the chance to fully experience, and she won’t give them up so long as she can keep going.
Now, she’s told her brothers and sisters what happened when she was younger that made her distant from her father, and their understanding has allowed relationships to heal.
Now, her daughter is attending Oglethorpe University studying theater and studio art with a focus in film. She’s following in her mother’s footsteps, advocating for a film studio and video and audio equipment, refusing to take no for an answer.
Now, Lozoya is working with a charity to support homeless, military single mothers, like she herself once was.
Now, whenever she gets a chance, she tells a story of perseverance, of an eternally burning fire within herself, of the ability to overcome her greatest challenges.
Veronica Lozoya is a role model this world needs.