Hay Que Tener Conexiones,
El Refrán De Mi Padre
By LCDR Theresa Bigay, Senior Travelling Marine Inspector
Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise, USCG
My father understood the
value of building connections
better than anyone I know
and, as I grew up, he instilled that upon
me constantly. I remember him saying
“hay que tener conexiones” whenever he
helped one of his many friends in town.
That town, Naranjito, Puerto Rico (PR), is
where I grew up. My childhood home
and countless other blessings, were the
direct result of my father’s ability to build
relationships through his selflessness in
support of others. An Army veteran, and
family comedian, he inspired me to join
the service. In 2010, I commissioned as
an officer in the Coast Guard.
I failed to grasp the profundity of my
dad’s “consejo” until I was a senior
Lieutenant. During my 13-year career, I built
Latina Letters From the Front
a strong support system of colleagues, which
turned into friends, and friends, which turned into
family. I, however, was unaware of the strength of
these “conexiones” until 2017 when, while serving
as Investigations Division Chief in Portland, OR, I
volunteered for the Hurricane Maria response in PR.
I had not heard from my father since the day
LCDR Theresa Bigay. LCDR Theresa Bigay with dad Jose Bigay.
the hurricane was due to make landfall. While
leading operational and humanitarian missions in
support of hard-hit communities, I was struck by
personal tragedy. My father was one of the over
3000 casualties. With the island in disarray, amid a
total blackout and without communication systems,
my Coast Guard and civilian “conexiones” sprang
into action. Friends from across the nation began
to help with complicated logistics, as I dealt with backlogs and a crippled medical system, while
Inspection team for Initial construction exam on Enchanted Princess.
teammates helped me to continue hurricane response
efforts. My dad’s adage helped me harness the grit
needed to support hurricane response efforts
while giving him the meaningful memorial service
As a Coast Guard marine safety professional,
networking is imperative; however, my father’s
“conexiones” transcended mere professional networks.
At its core, his “consejo” was about humility and
service in leadership. What I learned from him informs
my approach to building strong support networks.
1. Being deliberate about your connections:
Building and maintaining connections requires intrinsic
motivation. You need to actively engage and check
in. Belonging to a group, whether your Academy class
or Hispanic organizations, offers mutual support for folks
who share similar experiences.
However, building bridges across those groups is
the key to diversifying support networks and learning
from different perspectives.
2. Being an authentic leader: Building and
maintaining connections requires trust. Being
deliberate about them only works if you are genuine.
Authentic leaders are their true selves. As my dad used
to say, they are confident enough to be humble. One
needs to be resolute and selfless in supporting their
connections, and unpretentious in accepting support.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and my
father’s death, strong connections were integral to my
mental health. We all have our go-to people; however,
now more than ever, we must be deliberate and
authentic to build the type of “conexiones” which can lift
you in times of crisis. LS
Promotion day with best friend Angela
Turnbow (R) and LCDR Chelsey Olson (L).
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34 www.latinastyle.com LATINAStyle V ol. 27, No. 3, 2021