Flying Free is a poignant and fascinating free-thought memoir by Cecilia Aragon. The narrative flows from her childhood to adulthood and back again in many of the chapters.
Cecilia’s Chilean father and Filipino mother are proud American immigrants, and their happiness at living in a small town in Indiana blinds them to the reality of Cecilia’s childhood. Her life is lonely as she is bullied, shunned, and abused by peers. Teachers fail to see her potential.
But her college-professor father recognizes in her the same innate mathematical ability he possesses. With his encouragement, Cecilia finishes high school early and is admitted to the CA Institute of Technology at age 16. She is extremely shy and timid, and afraid to ride elevators well into her twenties. Even when her classes are on the 11th floor, she uses the stairs.
Cecilia meets Ben, an engineering student at Cal-Tech who’s equally enamored with mathematics. She marries him at age 19. They write their own wedding vows and even chose a new last name to celebrate their new life together: Aragon. (Aragon is a province in Spain that reflected both their European and Hispanic ethnicities.)
Sadly, Ben expects her to be a housekeeper and cook—while still, of course, working full time and paying half their expenses. But Cecilia develops an interest in flying and soon thinks of little else. She has scant interest in his mundane chatter about his daily engineering tasks. Their marriage suffers.
Determined to follow her dream, Cecilia begins lessons. She is so small that she sits on a booster-like seat in order to fly. When she runs the numbers and finds that flying will be more affordable if she possesses her own plane, Cecilia borrows money to purchase one, though she’s not yet taken a solo flight.
Ben reluctantly develops an interest in his wife’s obsession with flying, as do both sets of parents—though none of them assist her with the expenses of flight lessons or the cost of buying and maintaining her airplane.
Flying instills a sense of worth that’s been sorely missing from Cecilia’s life. She becomes a test pilot, and becomes the first Latina to represent the USA in the Olympics of Aviation, the World Aerobics Championships.
Later Cecilia goes back to graduate school and earns her PhD in computer science. Her career includes stints working with astronomers, Nobel prize winners, teaching astronauts to fly and finally her dream job, teaching engineering at the University of Washington.
How does this tiny, insecure woman, fearful even of elevators, conquer the skies in a mere six years? This memoir shows Cecilia’s path to becoming a bold and confident woman. As she says, Flying Free “is my story of breaking free from expectations and prejudice, of rising above my own limits.”