‘If you can see it, you can be it’: How one flight inspired this employee’s career

Julio spent every summer with his sister in Mexico to visit family. On one of his flights, the flight attendant asked if he wanted to say hi to the pilots. He said yes, and up they went to the flight deck. The pilots gave Julio a pair of wings, asked him his name and let him press a button. And in that moment, an aviator was born.

“Even though I was only up there for a minute I thought – ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do with my life,”’ said Julio.

That moment also subconsciously conveyed a message that would shape his future. Julio saw possibilities for himself, even if he couldn’t fully comprehend it as a child. “The crew all looked like me because we [my sister and I] were flying a Mexican airline. I didn’t know it at the time, but I thought, well, I could do this,” he said.

Navigating the dualities of two worlds growing up

Julio is the proud child of immigrants – his parents, seeking a brighter future, arrived in the US in the late 80s during the Reagan era. They navigated the complexities of immigration and were granted amnesty which helped guide their process to becoming citizens.

Julio was the first in his family to be born in the US and grew up in a diverse neighborhood in Southern California. In his early years, Julio shied away from speaking Spanish, his first language, both at school and in everyday interactions.

He longed to fit in and not stand out, but he also struggled to find his place among the Latino kids at school who conversed in Spanish. “I just wanted to be like everyone else, so I only spoke English,” said Julio.

Like generations of immigrants before them, children of immigrants often become “language brokers” – those who linguistically translate for family members who do not fluently speak the language of the country they live in. This additional responsibility was no different for Julio and his sister. 

“My sister is four years older than me, and we just had to figure things out on our own. I remember any time we had a parent-teacher conference, or we had to go to the doctor, or anywhere, I felt like we had to be the adults because we had to translate everything for them,” said Julio

A young Julio waits in line at Disneyland for the Haunted Mansion.

Chasing his aviation dreams

With dreams of becoming a pilot, Julio was uncertain how to begin. His parents consistently encouraged him to do well and stay in school, but being unfamiliar with the American higher education system, it was up to Julio to chart his own path.

“I didn’t know any pilots, so in my junior year of high school everyone’s asking, ‘oh where are you going to go to college?,’ and honestly, I just started Googling ‘aviation’ and ‘how do you become a pilot?’,” Julio laughed as he shared this. In his searches, one school always popped up – Embry-Riddle – and he talked to his counselor, applied in his senior year and was accepted.   

Julio flew to Daytona Beach to tour the campus and had his schedule. The final step was securing finances to pay for it. “I remember thinking, wow, this is so expensive I can’t afford this, and I would never want to put my parents in a situation where they’d have to sign a house mortgage for me to go to school,” said Julio.

His counselor suggested he take Embry-Riddle’s online course, which he did for two years, but financial constraints still kept him from affording flying lessons. So, it was on to plan b. On the brink of turning 21, Julio applied to be a flight attendant. It was also during this time that he began to embrace his Mexican heritage openly.

“I was hired as a bilingual flight attendant and flew all over. I’d help people fill out their immigration forms or ask them about their connections and help them get through the customs process,” said Julio. “In that moment, I really embraced being proud to speak Spanish because I knew that’s what my parents went through [having someone translate for them]. I thought to myself – this is who I am, and it’s cool that I’m bilingual and Mexican, instead of hiding it.”

On layovers with crew he shared with the pilots he’d always wanted to fly planes. They consistently urged Julio to chase his dream and that propelled him to go back to college and finish his last two years. After six years, he left his career as a flight attendant to dedicate himself to pilot training full-time. He got his ratings and then became an instructor before moving to a regional airline. Today, he’s a first officer for Alaska.

Julio’s journey to becoming a pilot was different from the typical route, but his serves as an inspiring reminder of the power of perseverance and believing in one’s dreams. His parents were also a big inspiration – watching them work so hard their whole life, and never giving up.

Julio smiles as he celebrates his graduation from Kennesaw State University.

“I wouldn’t really share this with a lot of people, but after my first experience meeting those pilots that summer, every candle I blew out on a birthday cake, every penny thrown in a fountain, anytime 11:11 was on a clock, or whenever I saw a shooting star, I always wished to be a pilot. My whole life – please let me be a pilot one day,” shared Julio.

His words of wisdom: “If you have a goal, just do whatever it takes to make it happen. Because one day, your dream will come true.”