Army brat goes Diva
When WWE visits our troops in Iraq every year, the experience holds a special meaning for Raw ring announcer Lilian Garcia.
"Whenever we go to Iraq or Afghanistan, we get off the planes, we see the men in uniform, and it brings me back to my childhood," Lilian said. "I feel like they're family."
Born in the Canal Zone military base in Panama and raised for eight years in Madrid, Spain, while attending Royal Oaks military school, Lilian had immense exposure to Army life. She is always quick to call herself an Army brat, after spending many years traveling with her father who served.
"I always felt like someone in uniform was a family member," she explained. "A large part of who I am is being an Army brat. I have a lot of respect for soldiers."
Lilian's father worked in intelligence at the American Embassy during her time in Madrid. Her eight years there were enough for her to consider the city her home. After moving to the United States, she eventually chose to live in New York for its similarities to the Spanish city.
Before her move to the Big Apple, Lilian made a stop in South Carolina when she was 14 years old. Her family moved and shortly afterward, the future WWE Diva was introduced to sports-entertainment.
"Once we moved to South Carolina, I remember watching WWE with my dad and yelling at the TV," she said. "He took me to a couple of matches at the Carolina Coliseum in Columbia. I watched Ric Flair, Andre the Giant and so many others. I'll never forget the intensity of that building."
In the late 1990s, Lilian's agent called her with an opportunity to work for WWE. With no previous wrestling experience, Lilian had her concerns, but went to Stamford, Conn., anyway to see what WWE had to offer.
That position to work with the company's Spanish-speaking show fell through, but six months later, Lilian was called for another opportunity. It was an audition to be a ring announcer for the new show, SmackDown. WWE hired her for a trial run, but they wouldn't need another six months this time.
"That was August 23, 1999," Lilian recalled. "It was Iowa St. University and it was amazing. From the very first day, I was hooked. And here I am nine years later."
While Lilian's mother and sister were not the biggest fans of WWE to say the least, it gave her and her father something to bond over. When Lilian initially called her father to tell him about her new job, he was as excited as she was.
"It was our thing," she said. "Then, suddenly, there I am announcing Ric Flair. It was very surreal."
Lilian is not only living out one dream. She's actually living two, as WWE supported her in recording her first album as a vocal artist.
Her first album, Ã‚Â¡Quiero Vivir!, is the result of a singing career that began at the young age of 5 when her father took up guitar lessons. The instructor would come over and play while Lilian and her sister sang along. Eventually, they were the ones receiving lessons while Lilian's poor father never learned how to play guitar.
The music instructor wasn't joking around; he placed the sisters in shows and helped Lilian realize her singing dream early in life. She pursued this love, even in her spare time, recording herself singing.
"I love to entertain people and I love music," Lilian said. "When I get to perform, when I see those faces of people who are entertained by me singing … That's the lore of it. It's the same as Superstars and Divas having a great match, when I go out there and perform."
Ã‚Â¡Quiero Vivir! was the perfect start for Lilian. Spanish was the first language she knew, so it was only appropriate that her first album be released in Spanish. She started learning English when she was 5, after going to kindergarten wearing a sign that said the only words she knew in English were hello and goodbye. Even while she learned English, she kept up with her Spanish consistently, thanks to her Spanish-speaking grandmother who lived with her.
Now that the first album is produced and she's on the map, Lilian is in the process of recording her follow-up -- an English album.
"I love writing and I love being in a studio," she said. "I'm really excited about this coming together, and then we'll see where it goes from there."
Whether it's singing to her mother when she was 5 or singing the National Anthem at a New York Jets game, music has been a huge piece of who Lilian is. And don't look for that to stop anytime soon.
"Music is always going to be a part of me. I have to do it. It's an avenue I have to pursue."