Meet the Latino Pilots Association – and Camila

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“Yes, there is a Latino Pilots Association,” is the answer to the question we hear most often. In four years, we’ve grown from a small group of five pilot-volunteers, into a nationwide organization of approximately 400 members, with regional directors leading teams in South Florida, North Florida, Puerto Rico, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. 

The Latino Pilots Association (LPA) is more than just an all-inclusive minority organization. Although we provide a platform for Latino pilots to gain more visibility within their profession, we are more concerned with our actual volunteer efforts. You do not have to be Latino to join provided you support the cause of mentoring future generations of professional pilots, regardless of race, color or ethnicity. If you fly by our values and believe in our mission, then we could use your support. To join, visit: www.Latinopilot.org 

The LPA also fosters the belief that if volunteering is important to you, there is always time and we have incredible stories from within our own ranks. Here, I’m happy to introduce you to one of our newest Regional Directors, Camila Turrieta. Prior to her service in the LPA, Camila held official positions with Women in Aviation International and The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP). Still an active coordinator at OBAP, Camila heads their Aerospace Career Education camp in New York. She is a true leader and an inspiration to many. She has twice been recognized by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award, an accomplishment that requires over 4,000 hours of community involvement. 

We are beyond thrilled to have Camila on our team and look forward to her work in the New York area. We would also like to thank Aero Crew Newsfor providing a spotlight this month with the opportunity to recognize one of our greatest LPA contributors, Camila Turrieta. 

Jerry Dooyes

President, Latino Pilots Association 

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Hello readers! My name is Camila Turrieta, but I also write on behalf of my husband, Gabriel Mercado. Gabriel and I are both first officers with JetBlue Airways and have recently been named regional directors for the Latino Pilots Association (LPA) in the New York area. As part of LPA, we have set many goals to achieve for our region over the next few months. Our three biggest goals in the New York region are to increase awareness of the LPA to the broader aviation industry, recruit new volunteers and members to the organization, and to reach hundreds of students in the region by exposing them to our profession. It is our firm belief that mentoring students is a great way to impact the supply of pilots for future generations. We hope to instill in them the same passion and dedication we share for our careers today.

Gabriel and I met while we were both students in the Aviation Academy at August Martin High School in Jamaica, Queens, New York. We had both developed an interest in aviation while we were young. My passion for aviation stems from a flight I took as a young child from Chile to New York. Gabriel’s spark was kindled when he traveled back and forth between New York and Puerto Rico to visit family. As high school students, if we were able to maintain an 85% cumulative grade-point average, we would be afforded the opportunity to fly every Thursday with the aviation academy affiliated with our school. Through this program, my husband was able to solo when he was just 17 years old.

Gabriel moved onto college, but one afternoon during my senior year, we reconnected at our local airport. At the time, he was finishing his Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, and during a visit one day, he asked if I would continue flying after high school. My response should not have surprised him as it was a resounding, “Yes!” After graduation that summer, I became Gabriel’s first flight student. (He would go on to train me from my Private Pilot Certificate all the way through my CFI.) In the fall, I began college at the very same aeronautical institution Gabriel was attending, Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Flushing, Queens. After five years of dating, at my master’s degree graduation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., Gabriel got down onto one knee and asked me to be his wife. As he asked, I had an immediate flashback to all of the years I had known Gabriel and what we had accomplished and gone through together. You never really understand the importance of a soulmate until you meet them. When you both share a common passion or interest for things that you love to do together, it makes it all the more special. Our common passions and resounding themes are family, aviation and volunteering. As long as we are able to balance these things in our lives, our circle is complete.   

Giving back and volunteering are especially important to us. During our time at Vaughn College, we both developed a keen interest in donating our time to help mentor and speak with middle and high school-aged students. We were once inner city school kids and knew how hard it was for us to achieve our goals, mostly due to lack of proper mentorship and guidance. We have taken it upon ourselves to help close this gap and give inner city school students presentations and guided discussions on the topics of the aviation industry and STEM-related careers. We believe that in order to connect with students who may not see an avenue away from the path they are on, from the bad neighborhoods where they live, or from the negative influences they have, it is necessary to share our stories and our working relationship. We give them something familiar, from a perspective they can relate to on many levels. This philosophy aligns with the mission of the LPA. 

I have always shared my story – how an undocumented seven-year-old girl from Chile, came to the United States with her parents aboard a LAN Chile flight with hopes and dreams of a better future. At the time, Chile was reemerging as a democracy after a 17-year dictatorship. My grandmother had urged my parents to seek a better future by moving to the United States, believing that the socio-economic factors in Chile were not suitable to raise a family and could have negatively affected our future well-being. I share my personal struggles of obtaining green card status and paying my way through college and flight school without financial assistance. I speak about the jobs I have held prior to my career in the airlines which include working as a cashier at a supermarket, cleaning houses with my mother on weekends, and working again as a cashier at the local mall. Most importantly, we also share how Gabriel and I are first-generation American college graduates and first-generation professional pilots.

Over the last several years as LPA volunteers, we have found that the most effective way to get through to the youth of today is to share yourstory. We are all storytellers, but the story of your life is one of the most important to tell because each of us has a broad spectrum of life experiences that may be relatable to a student in need of guidance. Students can learn from both our successes and from our failures. We have all failed from time to time, but it is how we react and carry ourselves afterward that determine our true character. It is important to share our stories so that students can draw from our experiences to realize that obstacles will always be present. Our personal examples are proof positive that one can overcome life’s challenges through hard work, dedication, support from family and friends, and most importantly, never forgetting where they came from. Remind your audience that one day they will be standing where you are, sharing their journey with the next generation. Help them envision it and their path into the cockpit will become clearer. 

The students we speak with are mostly minorities who need positive mentorship in order to help them achieve their goals. Through the LPA, we can help them accomplish this. When they see someone who looks like them, Hispanic pilots in Jetblue uniforms, they immediately pay attention and become interested in our stories. There is a special connection and engagement that comes from hearing “someone like you” share their experiences. The LPA is an all-inclusive organization, but we do notice special attention being paid to our presentations by the students who identify as Latino. There are many paths into the world of aviation and we lay those out. We exemplify the possibilities, but we advise that it is up to them to heed the guidance and to remain connected through continued mentorship. 

We believe having a mentor is an essential part of the development of a child during the early years of their life. My mentor in aviation, who later became my husband, allowed me to see my possibilities as a pilot. Gabriel showed me what the aviation industry had to offer, and I immediately fell in love. If it were not for his mentorship and guidance, I would not be in the position I am today, and I would not be a part of the mere 5% of female pilots worldwide. Part of our goal in raising awareness is to provide exposure to our industry – regrettably, on that lacks diversity. 

Think about your childhood. We have all had help along the way. Who were your mentors? Who helped you achieve your professional success? I encourage each of you to take the time to join this organization and help mentor our youth. You do not have to be Latino to join or support our mission. I challenge you to make the time and effort to reach out to at least ten kids this year. It can be as simple as a flight deck tour. That alone may inspire ten future aviators, mechanics, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, etc. Gabriel and I will continue to balance our relationship between flying the line, teaching at Vaughn College, and being new parents to our baby boy, Laurence. Somehow, we still find time to volunteer, raising awareness and providing positive mentorship – something we believe is necessary to secure and improve the future of our industry. We are excited about our new positions with the LPA and look forward to many years of creating a network in the New York area so that others may benefit from the collective experience that is the Latino Pilots Association.

Images Provided by: Latino Pilots Association

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