Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
In today’s increasingly global world, understanding diverse cultures and embracing differences is essential to success. Given the challenges and far-reaching missions of the Coast Guard, wise cadets seek to strengthen their understanding of other cultures and faiths, while growing in their own tradition. As a result, they better understand themselves, those with whom they serve, as well as the public they will encounter.
But what happens when you are the only one like you, past and present?
Coast Guard Academy First Class Cadet Stephanie Miranda is a first generation Indian-American, the only cadet of Indian heritage at the Academy, and believed to be the first Indian-American woman to graduate from the Academy.
“My country is America, I am an American,” said Miranda. “But I am also Indian.”
Miranda, coming to the Academy for Swab Summer in 2014, quickly realized that she was the only cadet of Indian heritage and has been for her four years here.
“When I first got here, I noticed that there were not any other Indian looking cadets here,” said Miranda. “I have kept my eye open for another, but in the four years I have been here, I have not met another.”
Miranda is a success story of the Academy’s Minority Outreach Team, which works to recruit cadets of diverse backgrounds.
Founded in 2009, the AMOT augments recruiting and retention efforts of applicants, prep school scholars, and Coast Guard Academy cadets of color. Most team members are either Academy graduates or active duty officers from diverse backgrounds who have been paired with individual cadets of similar backgrounds.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Hoon Park is one of the AMOT leaders for Asian-American cadets.
“Miranda is a great cadet and a value to the Academy,” said Park. “She has shared her culture and heritage with many others giving us a better understanding of what it means to be an Indian-American. We believe that she is the first Indian-American woman to graduate from the Academy and on a year with the largest amount of Asian-Americans graduating.”
Growing up, Miranda was surrounded by family with strong ties in the Indian community.
“We are Indians, we have customs different from others,” said Miranda. “One of our customs is to bring others into our homes and make them feel welcome. I have brought this with me to the Academy.”
Being the only Indian at the Academy, Miranda is asked to share her culture and traditions by others.
“She shares the food her grandma and aunt make with me,” said First Class Cadet Victoria Nelson, Miranda’s roommate. “I enjoy hearing about how the food is made and why she likes it so much.”
Food is how Miranda gets others interested in Indian culture and traditions.
“Everyone loves food, and Indian food is the best there is,” said Miranda.
Nelson, the president of the Academy’s Asian Pacific American Council teamed up with Miranda to host a Holi event as one of the group’s lunch excusals.
Holi is popularly known as the Indian “festival of spring” and signifies the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships.
“By introducing others to Indian food it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to more Indian culture,” said Miranda. “Bhindi Masala, also known as okra stir-fry, is my favorite.”
The Coast Guard Academy gives Miranda more opportunities than sharing food and culture, it gives her the opportunity to belong and make a difference.
Early in her life, Miranda knew she wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“I have always been interested in helping people,” said Miranda. “The Coast Guard’s mission allows me to help people through law enforcement.”
Being the only one who looks like you is tough for anyone, but Miranda doesn’t feel that way. She is grateful for the opportunities here at the Academy and her future in the Coast Guard.
“When people think Indian, they automatically think Hindu is my religion, but both my parents are Roman Catholic and that is how I was raised,” said Miranda. “Being Roman Catholic in the States and at the Academy is not a big deal, but in India it is. I would be excluded from participating in many events and some colleges because of my religion.”
Many people in India believe in the caste system, where people are separated into rigid hierarchical groups based on their work, social status and religion.
“Here at the Academy I am given the same opportunities as everyone else,” said Miranda. “Here, I am included.”
Being included however, does not lessen Miranda’s Indian culture homesickness.
“My parents live in California on the other side of the country, but luckily my aunt lives in New York and I am able to visit her often,” said Miranda.
“I am able to visit with my family in New York, eat Indian food, and participate in Indian cultural events.”
Most of Miranda’s mother’s family moved from India to Canada and then into New York. Her parents met in New York and then moved to California where her father finished his degree in engineering and started a career with Apple.
“My parents are amazing,” said Miranda. “They are both so smart and have supported me in everything I have [chosen] to do including joining the Coast Guard. My whole family is very supportive”
With some family still in India, Miranda has visited the country several times.
“India is the most beautiful place on Earth,” said Miranda. “I enjoy going there and immersing in the culture and the beauty of it all. The Taj Mahal is my favorite place to visit.”
This year, Miranda will start a new journey as a Coast Guard ensign aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Michigan.
“I am very excited to start my career and serve on the most amazing cutter,” said Miranda. “The ‘Queen of the Lakes’ has the most complex missions in the Coast Guard, from ice breaking to law enforcement to humanitarian to public affairs.
“I am so excited for my next journey and to introduce the crew of the Mackinaw to some chicken tikka masala and mango curry.”