Spotlight: Rosa Guerrero

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Written by Renee Malooly and originally published on Borderzine 

Link to article: http://borderzine.com/2014/11/at-80-el-paso-folklorico-pioneer-rosa-guerrero-still-lets-faith-guide-her-steps/

Dressed in a bright orange jacket adorned with a necklace and a crucifix pendant, Rosa Guerrero flashed a warm smile, projecting the trademark youthful spirit and upbeat stamina that belied her approaching 80th birthday.

“Age is just a matter of the mind,” Guerrero said as she sipped her cranberry and orange juice drink, a mix she concocted herself. “If you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter.”

Guerrero’s long resume in the professional dance world has not weighed her down. An avid dancer in all types of genres, a dance teacher of students that range in age from two-year-olds to 100-year-olds, and an ambassador for Mexican folkloric dance, her love for dance is evident in the rhythm of her hand gestures and expressive nature.

“I started dancing in my mother’s womb,” Guerrero exclaimed as she sculpted a simple dance move with her hands.

Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Guerrero has always been a dedicated individual who never settles for the bare minimum. Growing up without a car, Guerrero said she would walk to dance practice downtown from her central El Paso home.

“We did without a car,” Guerrero said. “It’s not a sin to be poor but it is a sin to be lazy,” she said, proud of her humble origins.

Frank Lopez, a friend of Guerrero for more than 10 years, first saw her in her dance element at a nonprofit performance. Lopez is an executive director of Ngage, a Las Cruces,New Mexico, nonprofit educational organization.

Lopez said Guerrero’s kind nature makes her unique. “She’s very down to earth,” Lopez said. “She gives as much of herself to her community.”

A Roman Catholic, Guerrero said her strong sense of faith has guided her. She describes herself as ecumenical — someone who has a love and respect for other religions, beliefs, and faiths.

“To me there is only one God and he is our father and our maker,” Guerrero said. “I believe that all religions are based on that creator.”

Lopez said that Guerrero takes deep subjects of culture and race that are usually difficult for others to be open about, and makes them poignant subjects.

“She’s very spiritual in a beautiful way.”

Guerrero became immersed in other religions and cultures through dance. She is responsible for spreading Folklorico dance style throughout the United States after becoming the founder and artistic director of the Rosa Guerrero International Folklorico Dance Group. Guerrero said all individuals are unique and together make one giant tapestry, the title of a documentary she made that stresses this concept.

Guerrero’s nonprofit was the first Mexican folkloric dance group in the nation to dance at the Kennedy Center in 1991. They were also the first to dance for the CIA in 1992. Former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, was the CIA director at the time.

“He gave us a tour and he was very friendly to me,” Guerrero said.

Describing the performance for the CIA, Guerrero said the environment was very professional. Never letting go of her cheerful personality, Guerrero presented a gift consisting of El Paso Saddleblanket and Chile Company souvenirs to Gates on stage in front of the large conservative crowd. Guerrero said she jokingly told Gates that she is president of the CIA in El Paso, which filled the auditorium with laughter.

“All I did was break the barrier,” Guerrero said.

Dennis Bixler-Márquez, director of the Chicano Studies Program at UT El Paso, has known Guerrero since 1971 when he was a member of Teacher Corps. He said that Guerrero captures and represents what El Paso is about in an artistic sense through music and dance.

“What makes her inspirational is that she is a cultural ambassador for the city on both sides of the border,” Bixler-Márquez said. ​

Exposure of culture is important to Guerrero. Receiving bachelor’s degree from Texas Western College, now the University of Texas at El Paso, in elementary and high school education in 1957, Guerrero has worked at numerous public schools throughout El Paso to spread that idea. She hopes to spend the rest of her life writing.

“One written word is worth one thousand spoken ones,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero’s husband of 60 years, Sergio, three children and five grandchildren are strong figures in her life. She said everything she has wanted is to make her family proud. She is grateful for her parents and said she is thankful for anyone who has been a part of her life.

“God put you here and your parents give you your life,” Guerrero said. “The rest is up to you.”

Latina Spotlight: Isabelle Salazar

I’ve met a series of professional women throughout my life. Whether they’re engineers, teachers, or business women, they’ve all influenced me in some way or another. However, none of them had managed to leave an emotional impression on me that went beyond awe for their strength and determination.

It feels as if I’ve been searching for a role model my entire life. I’ve been looking someone with whom I can connect with beyond professional and polite conversations and smiles. I’m well aware of what the role of a mentor is supposed to be – I’ve had the definition drummed into my head through countless business seminars.

Isabelle Salazar changed my life. She is not only my journalism adviser – someone I automatically respect because of her position of power as my teacher – but she has also become a close friend and confidant. She’s the person I come to first when I have an issue I need help dealing with or when I have good news to share. She has gone above and beyond her responsibilities as my adviser and words cannot express how thankful I am to have her as a mentor. I’ve known Ms. Salazar for the entirety of my high school career and with high school graduation being nearly two months away, the four years of knowing her seem like a lifetime.

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Maroon News editors working SXSWedu. Photo credit: Isabelle Salazar, @ibellesalazar

Ms. Salazar is the person that made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. Since the moment I realized what I wanted to do with my life – pursue a communications degree, work for Univision – I’ve worked hard to prove not only to myself but to her that I have what it takes to achieve my goals. I’ve attended session after session of social media and journalism trainings to become better at what I do.

Ms. Salazar changed my life for the better because she’s been there for me when I need her. She was one of the first people I told that I am an undocumented, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) student and since then, she has stopped at nothing to help me on the path to a higher education – including, accompanying me to St. Louis, Missouri when my parents weren’t able to do so due to their immigration status.

Our relationship is all about giving as much as we get. She shares with me as much as I share with her. I’ve told Ms. Salazar some pretty emotional and deep stuff. She’s seen me at my worst and she’s seen me at my best. Through our time together, she’s almost become a second mother to me, although her young age says so otherwise.

I have spilled the darkest secrets of my past that aren’t really so secret anymore. She was one of the first people I told about my past before coming to Austin – from crossing the Mexico-U.S. border to living with an abusive father. Ms. Salazar helped me free myself from what was holding me back: fear of judgement.

I’ve always been ashamed of my immigration status and I’ve always been ashamed of revealing any details of my abusive childhood. The fear of judgement plagued my mind for years on end and it severely damaged many relationships for me.

However, she encouraged me to share my story through The Maroon, our news magazine that has an audience of about 2,100 students, staff, and faculty. I wrote a commentary piece that spread over nearly four pages. I wrote my story with great detail and poured my heart into it. After the story went into print, many of my peers came up to me, thanking me for sharing my story with raw honesty. They trusted me enough to share with me that we’re not so different; they trusted me enough to tell me that they too are undocumented.

I would have never dared to even think of sharing my story with more people than necessary if it hadn’t been for my adviser. Ms. Salazar has not just been a mentor and a friend. She gave me courage and she gave me strength, and I will always be thankful for that.

 

Career Spotlight: Press Secretary- L.A. Federation of Labor

Gabriella Landeros

Name: Gabriella Landeros

Job Title: Press Secretary for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

What are some of your job responsibilities?

I support over 300 labor unions in their media needs, prepare the Federation’s Executive Secretary-Treasurer for all media and speaking obligations, write speeches, and plan and execute media strategies for the organization’s campaigns. I also edit and assist in drafting policies and manage the organization’s digital channels.

What is your educational background?
I graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Cultural Studies and minor in Spanish. I also spent my junior year abroad studying in Madrid, Spain.

Describe your college experience and how it helped you prepare for your career:
I always loved writing, but I was interested in news writing in particular. I volunteered at my university’s radio station (KUCR 88.3 FM), and I was on-air every morning reporting the news for the day. I was also a student reporter for Uwire.com: The College Network and writer, editor, and reporter for my university’s virtual newspaper. During study abroad, I also got the chance to take radio and production classes with students from around the world. To top off my college experience, I interned in Washington, D.C. as a Congressional Reporter for the Talk Radio News Service. It was in D.C. where my love for writing and politics joined forces.

How did you find your current job?
Networking! I met my now coworker during a media training in Washington, D.C. We had a lot of things in common, but the most striking coincidence is that we both grew up in the same area. She told me about the Press Secretary position at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and I jumped at the opportunity. I am grateful for the chance at giving back to my community, while being close to my family. My mom and brother are proud union members, and I knew I wanted to find a career that involved advocating for good jobs and fair wages.

What did you do to prepare for this career?
I wrote and read a lot. Since college I maintained a blog and contributed stories to different news outlets, such as Latinitas Magazine and the Independent Voter Network. You have to enjoy writing and stay up-to-date on the news everyday. Part of my role involves being contacted by the media if breaking news occurs in relation to my organization. I not only have to be quick on my feet, but I have to understand what is going on and how I am controlling the message.

My past positions that include campaign work and serving in the Obama Administration, also prepared me for the long and unexpected hours that come with a career in communications.

What do you like most about your job?
I like being able to control the message and pushing the values my organization represents, which I also identify with and believe in. Whether it’s a campaign or issue I’m publicizing, I feel satisfaction knowing the amount of workers it will impact. Most importantly, I feel like I’m making a difference.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is writing in someone else’s voice that is not my own. With communications, you often have to write from a different perspective that you may not be used to. Although challenging, it makes you think out of the box.

What advice would you give to help a girl prepare for a job like yours?

  • Start building your portfolio now. Any job that involves writing or the arts, is going to ask for samples of your work.
  • Write! Write about anything you’re passionate about, and do it often.
  • Never take someone else’s work for your own.
  • Stay up-to-date on current events.
  • Read books.
  • Take advantage of internships.
  • Never give up!

What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?
I enjoy running. Running is my version of yoga – it relaxes me. It helps me de-stress.

Career Spotlight: Project Manager for IBM

IMG_3957Name: Karen Mariela Siles

Hometown: Born and raised in Cochabamba, Bolivia; moved to the US, Northern Virginia area when I was 15 however due to a full time offer I moved to Austin, TX after college graduation.

Employer : IBM Corporation in Austin, TX

Job Title: Project Manager for IBM Cloud Organization

What are some of your job responsibilities?
The goal of a project manager is essentially take a project from beginning to end, making sure that all the components that are needed are facilitated in order to get to our deadline. In my case, I work with software developers and ensure that we are reaching deadlines for our project to deliver cutting edge technology for IBM Cloud.

What is your educational background?
In May, 2007, I got my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from George Mason University in Fairfax,VA.

How did you find your current job?
I have been with IBM for eight years; this is my fourth career path that I have taken. My first job with IBM was due to an organization called Society of Hispanic Professional Engineer (SHPE). Through SHPE ,I was able to attend their National Conference that offers professional development, networking, and a career fair. Through these conferences IBM was able to recruit me and I was offered a full time position with IBM in Austin, TX

What did you do to prepare for this career?
I graduated as an Electrical Engineering in college but my first choice of major was Computer Science. I took a lot of programming courses so I got my first internship as a Computer Programmer during my Junior year of college. As a senior I had to opportunity to stay with CACI as a computer programmer, but I decided to take the IBM offer in Texas. My first job with IBM was a Software Engineer helping people with their middleware and making sure that I helped customers solve their problems.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my current job is when my team reaches their deadline and we have a developed product. The best part is always when you see that you have completed your project and you can see the affects of your work.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
I always find it challenging when developers need help but are not able to find the righ resources to get the help they need. As a Project Manager, I need to ensure that they have all the  capabilities in getting the right aid, but sometimes you depend on other teams to deliver their part before you can start yours.

What advice would you give to help a girl prepare for a job like yours?
In my opinion, everyone should study a career in STEM. The thinking and the tools that STEM classes give you are very hard to get if you are pursuing a non technical career. As a Software Engineer,  I wish I would have taken more engineering and computer science courses in high school. Some teachers at the university cannot spend a lot of time with you as a high school teacher can, so I wish I would have learned more basic science, engineer, math and computer science in High School. My advice would be to take STEM classes throughout high school; it will give you a strong basis for whatever you decide to do in the future.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?
Most of my career advancement was through my networks and meeting people who wanted to mentor me. Therefore, most of my free time is given towards community service organizations like Latinitas where we can empower young people, or mentor them to become amazing individuals. Giving back is the best part of my day and I like to spend a lot of time volunteering. However, if I am not volunteering, I enjoy spending time with my dog, Kasper. Currently, I am training for a half marathon, which has caused  me to enjoy running in my spare time. I did my first half marathon with the Disneyworld, Princess Half Marathon.  I am very excited for my first half marathon, but I doubt it will be my last.

Latina Spotlight: Marlett García (MSW)

Originally from Presidio, Texas, Marlett García is a Victim Specialist at the Paso del Norte Center of Hope

(a program under the Center for Children).

What are some of your job responsibilities?
To provide extensive case management services to victims of human trafficking to include crisis-intervention, immediate and long-term assistance, and referral support. To collaborate with law enforcement and social services agencies to provide ongoing emotional and social services to victims while working through the victimization.

Other responsibilities include: assisting victims with the completion of documentation and applications as a means to obtain federal, state, and/or local assistance. Also, to conduct trainings and presentations to agencies, community organizations, law enforcement, and medical personnel on human trafficking in order to increase knowledge and awareness on the subject.

What is your educational background?  I obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas in 2011. Four years later, I obtained a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at El Paso.

Describe your college experience and how it helped you prepare for your career: Attending college was one of the best decisions of my life. It was truly a wonderful experience! College provided me with the necessary skills to become a constructive, adaptive, and innovative professional. My professors and courses enabled me to learn new skills and improve old ones by creating a constructive and stimulating environment which was conducive to my professional and personal growth.  Learning about practices and services that assist individuals and groups prepared and equipped me with the skills necessary to work with male and female victims to include youth, LGBTQI community, and juvenile detainees who fall victim to human trafficking. The ability to provide adequate services to each client can be attributed to the education received while in college.

How did you find your current job?  In 2014, I began my final year in Graduate School at the University of Texas at El Paso. To meet the requirements set by the Master of Social Work (MSW) program, I became a second year intern for the Paso del Norte Center of Hope. As an intern, I was task with the duty to research trends, data and statistics, and evidence-based practices in order to understand the complexity of human trafficking and to improve the community’s awareness and knowledge on the subject. The position as an intern provided insightful information on the agency and its mission to serve victims of human trafficking. Immediately, right after graduation, I applied for the position of Victim Specialist for the Paso del Norte Center of Hope.

What did you do to prepare for this career? I spent countless hours researching human trafficking. To learn about its trends, indicators, challenges, gaps, and implications I spent many hours reading articles and books on the subject. I also watched numerous documentaries and movies that depicted true encounters experienced by victims of labor and/or sex trafficking.  Most importantly, I asked lots of questions. While serving as an intern, I shadowed my supervisor and mentor, Mrs. Virginia McCrimmon. Through her supervision I was provided with the opportunity to ask questions and learn about real cases and experiences from victims of trafficking. Immersing myself in the work, I learned essential information which became beneficial during the process of obtaining this position. Serving as an intern and familiarizing myself with the work and the topic prepared me for this career.

What do you like most about your job?  My favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to help individuals who are resilient, driven, and strong-willed despite their victimization and trauma.  For me, experiencing the moments when a client obtains his/her documentation or when he/she feels empowered to disclose information about the victimization is truly significant and powerful. Moments such as those make my job so rewarding.

What is the most challenging part of your job? Most challenging part of the job is the limitation to provide services to potential clients who do not self-identify as victims. Also, the trauma and experiences endured by victims of human trafficking can create a significant restraint on services as victims are not likely to collaborate with law enforcement unless positive rapport has been established.

What advice would you give to help a girl prepare for a job like yours? Never be afraid to ask questions. To learn and become comfortable with your position, you must never be afraid to question your role and that of your agency. Give yourself the opportunity to learn new skills as well as improve new ones. Take time to assess your strengths and implement them in your work setting. By acknowledging your strengths and skills you will become a more effective and innovative professional.

What do you do for fun when you aren’t working? I like to dance, cook, and paint on my days off. I also enjoy volunteering for different organizations around the community. Keeping myself engaged in healthy activities is vital for my well-being as it provides balance and stability.

 

Latina Leader Valeria Chavez

Valeria Chavez
A recent graduate of Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, twenty-four year old Valeria Chavez has earned a law degree from the prestigious Mexican university. Driven by the injustices that she saw by everyday life, especially towards minors, she felt an internal calling to help those that were oppressed by their situation.

During her time as a college student she “[discovered] the inconsistencies within the Mexican system, the large pockets of corruption that asphyxiate the country, the high poverty rates, the millions of injustices that Mexican women suffer [as well as the kids] that were abandoned by their fathers to pursue the ‘American Dream’ or the mothers that were kidnapped by organizes crime so they can work in drug laboratories. Who is not going to be motivated with all this suffering,” challenges Chavez.

Being aware of the world that many Mexicans live in, Chavez threw herself into her community. Back in 2007 she began volunteering at Los Brazos de Dios A.C., a kitchen soup in Chihuahua, Chihuahua for children and teenagers that were afflicted with poverty. Every December the organization planned a posada, gathering of several days that provided lodging, and Chavez would talk and play with the children. Throughout the rest of the year she would celebrate El Dia de Niño, Children’s Day, or visit them in the summer to see what they were up to.

Although she moved out of the state, Chavez continued to make an impact wherever she went. In college, she created the program called Rescatando Mentes, Rescuing Minds, which drove to “rescue the minds” of children and educate them on topics that might be taboo for them. Chavez was inspired to create this program since in 2014, in areas of Michoacán, Guerrero, Jalisco, and State of Mexico, children were being kidnapped from rural places by criminal groups regardless of age and sex.

 

“It occurred to me to present this idea to the Instituto de Desarrollo Social del Tecnológico de Monterrey (IDESS), to start a community service project and that way form a group of my peers that will help me carry this out,” says Chavez.

According to Chavez, the program was built on four building blocks. The first was to giving children ways to prevent being victims of sexual assault, what to do if they were victims already, and how to talk about it.  The second pillar was to prevent addiction of drugs. They kids were informed of the types of addiction that exist and the consequences that happen due to the addiction. The third pillar was to motivate them and inspire the children. They were shown videos, had presentations, and given role models of legendary figures that managed to do great things by starting with nothing. The last block was built on the rights of children. Chavez and her team explained the rights they have as children and reminded them that they needed to be respected. Overall, the project was a success as the children and schools welcome this project into their classrooms.

Chavez built her experience as acting president of, La Sociedad de Alumnos de la carrera de Derecho y Ciencias Políticas, the Society of Alumnus  for Law and Political Science, for three semesters of college. She helped organize trips to historical landmarks in Mexico such as the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, Senate of the Republic, Government Palace, among many more. Within the second semester, the organization had invited key figures from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador. Chavez says that these visits were crucial as a student since you learn things outside of the classroom.

 

Being the first lawyer in her family, Chavez says that her father is her greatest inspiration to continue working. Although he passed away fourteen years ago, she remembers how her father was able to accomplish great things despite not going to college. To this day, Chavez continues to be reaping from her father’s hard work. “To me that is something that is worthy to admire every day,” says Chavez.

Currently the young lawyer is working in Ochoa Figueroa de Abogados, a law firm in Mexico, where she is the leader of an investigative project. Her team is currently compiling a “Libro Blanco,” a document meant to yield information over a certain topic, for the State Government of Mexico so they can look for any administrative inconsistencies within their spheres.

Where ever she is, Chavez wants to create change. “I wish to make a difference and leave a fingerprint wherever I go. There is no [final] answer and I believe that no one has discovered it, but I want to continue working towards making smaller changes to hopefully create a large one. There are many things that move me like injustices, education, and poverty, and they all can’t be solved at the same time. But I am sure that it doesn’t matter if you’re in the lowest position or the highest one we might find ourselves in, there will always be something worthy to do for society.”

Career Spotlight: Claudia Lujan

Entrepreneur/Writer 

Young Latinos across the nation are making advances in professional fields that we were often underrepresented in. An aspiring writer and half-marathoner on her off time, Claudia Luján is now immersing herself in the entrepreneurship culture after graduating college. This is her story.   

Claudia Lujan always displayed at intellectual curiosity for the world around her in her hometown of El Paso, Texas. Immersing herself from literature to understanding the complexity of a cell, her desire to learn helped her get into Swarthmore College. Being in one of the best liberal arts in the nation, Lujan was able to explore her passions and continue asking questions.

Although she enjoyed her college time and was ready to move on to the next chapter in her life, Lujan didn’t graduate this year without having made an impact on her campus and her community. Having double majored in Biology and English Literature, she explored opportunities that would give her further insight into these seemingly opposite worlds.

She was a research intern at the National Institutes of Health in Phoenix, Arizona, in the summer of 2013 where she studied the role of cortisol in gestational diabetes in Native American women. Lujan wanted to study “if physical manifestation of disease was due to the Native American [traumatic historical] experience.” She realized through this internship that doctors tend to ignore the “social environment that people exists and live in” and it prompted her to become involved in Public Health for her remaining college years.

“I wanted to create social good and Public Health was the answer,” reflects Lujan. “Public Health is an avenue in which to close disparities among people.”

Lujan was an active member of Global Health Forum at Swarthmore, acting as the executive board member and coordinator for about three years. There she helped raise several thousand dollars for the organization, coordinated panel discussions and promoted health education on topics such as AIDS, vaccines, and medical tourism.

She was co-creator of non-profit organization in 2014 with a Swarthmore alumni that focused on “social-economic healthcare and racial dimension of cancer care” in Santa Clare County, California. The non-profit, ERACE Cancer, operated under supervision of the Department of Oncology in Stanford University. The team was able to reach out to the community to identify their needs and come up with solutions about the cancer care.

Searching for a way to combine her writing and science skills, she founded, and was editor-in-chief, of the Swarthmore Journal of Science. This magazine represented the first journalism publication of the college and an excerpt in the first publication explains why the magazine was created. The editors explained how in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, there seemed to be an “underepresentation of women and people of color.” This magazine drove to provide a platform where “students from a variety of scientific backgrounds…can share their experience [in an attempt to ask] questions, share their work, and engage in conversations…”

Her hard work was geared to enter medical school, but by senior year she was “disillusioned by the barriers of entry, debt, and time that would be required before [she] can actually become a doctor.” Struggling on how to continue doing social good, Lujan soon realized that she can still achieve the same thing but though entrepreneurship. She applied to Venture for America, a two year entrepreneurship fellowship designed to recruit top graduates across the nation to create startups in cities that need revitalization. Accepted into the competitive program, she embarked on her new journey after graduation.

She recently finished a six-week training in marketing, business development, and startup culture at Brown University and will soon start working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She will be working for Message Agency, a corporation that creates websites for non-profits across the nation.

Undoubtedly Lujan has been successful in her field, but what drives her?

“A great deal of it comes from my family and El Paso. Although it’s home, the city had a lot of problems that had racial and socioeconomic dimensions. I was very frustrated to live within that system. It led me to push the boundaries of what I could do.” she adds.

It is Rocket Science! Latinas Rocking the Science World

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to honor and remind young, intelligent girls like you that everything is possible with perseverance, dedication, and confidence!

We have gathered five biographies of women in science: a pediatrician, an astronaut, an inventor, a surgeon general, and a marine biologist. Before these scientists started running the STEM world, they faced many obstacles and discrimination that, unfortunately, is way too familiar to us. However, the women you are about to read overcame every negative force that were thrown at them, and they are now history-makers – just like one day you may be!

So, grab your labcoat, put on your goggles, and prepare your big, beautiful brains to soak in some incredible inspiration and knowledge. Here are five Latinas rocking the science world!

Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias

Pediatrician  

Born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias (1929 – 2001), was an award-winning pediatrician, educator, and women’s rights activist who became the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association.

A victim of racism during her childhood, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias used her experience as a motivation to excel in academics, particularly in the area of science. After her high school graduation, she studied medicine in her parents’ native land at the University of Puerto Rico where she ruled the campus as a student activist.

Following a medical degree she obtained in 1960, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias opened Puerto Rico’s first health center for newborn babies. Within three years, the center helped the death rate for newborns decreased by 50%, and had established Dr. Rodriguez-Trias a recognition in the medical community.

Ten years later, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias headed back to New York where she became involved in the Women’s Health movement. Along with being an advocate speaker for reproductive rights, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias opposed sterilization abuse, a discriminating trend in the 1970’s where clinics would purposely trick women of color into signing papers regarding permission for the doctors to eliminate their ability to conceive; therefore, the women are permanently infertile and can no longer reproduce (have kids). The issue led Dr. Rodriguez to create the Campaign to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA) and strict federal sterilization guidelines.

 Dr. Rodriguez-Trias’ activism and medical doings elaborated into the 80’s and 90’s when she served as a medical director for the New York State Department of Health Aids. Along with her primary focus on women with HIV, she also nursed and treated children who were victims of abuse. Dr. Rodriguez-Trias’ commitment and dedication to women, children, and underprivileged citizens’ health won her a presidential position in the American Public Health Association, making her the first Latina president for the program! Almost a year before her death in December 2001, Dr. Rodriguez-Trias received the Presidential Citizens Medal, and she continues to be an inspiration in spirit for many Latinas. Maybe she will even inspire YOU to help people!

 

Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Astronaut
A second generation Mexican born in Los Angeles, California, Dr. Ellen Ochoa owns the title as being the first Hispanic woman to fly in space. Today, she serves as the director for NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

Dr. Ochoa was always fond of science. She dreamed of exploring space since she was a schoolgirl. She graduated at the top of her high school class with the role of valedictorian, and was even offered a scholarship to Stanford University; however, she decided to attend San Diego State University, a school closer to her home, to help provide for her family.

A gifted flute player, Dr. Ochoa considered majoring in music, but chose to pursue her love of science by majoring in engineering instead. She was taunted by her peers because engineering was “no place for a woman,” and she switched her major to physics. Dr. Ochoa was finally able to attend Stanford for graduate school where she received a fellowship for her original major in engineering, and eventually earned a doctorate in electrical engineering.

Dr. Ochoa never allowed rejection to discourage her from her dreams; she applied and was denied three times to participate in the NASA Training Program. It wasn’t until 1991 she was accepted, and after two years of training, she was assigned as a mission specialist aboard the Discovery shuttle, and left Earth to become the first Hispanic woman to travel in space! In total, Dr. Ochoa logged in more than 950 hours in space throughout her four space flights. Her responsibilities during these gravity-less hours included collecting data during a study of the sun’s energy, deploying a new satellite, and developing flight software and computer hardware.

The passion for science lives on for Dr. Ochoa. She is currently the director for the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center which is operated by NASA. The second woman and the first Hispanic to achieve that position, Dr. Ochoa has definitely broken boundaries by making history and establishing her name as an important figure in astronomy. Here at Latinitas, we salute a warm gracias to Dr. Ochoa for opening so much opportunities for our space-loving, starry-eyed amigas!

 

Olga D. González-Sanabria

Inventor
Although being an astronaut is definitely a unique and rewarding job, working on the ground can also be “out of this world.” Olga D. González-Sanabria is the highest rank Hispanic at NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center. She also holds a creative mind which was used to invent a special variety type of battery that helps contribute power to international space stations.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, González-Sanabria attended university in her homeland and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering. She furthered her education in Ohio where she attended University of Toledo and obtained a Master’s Degree in the same discipline.

In 1979, González-Sanabria’s NASA career began at the Glenn Research Center as chief for the Plans and Programs Office and executive officer to the center’s director. In this job, she assisted the director and helped plan and organize Glenn’s technical and institutional programs.

González-Sanabria is a holder of a patent, a license of rights to an invention, for the creation of “Alkaline Battery Containing a Separator of a Cross-Linked Polymer of Vinyl Alcohol and Unsaturated Carboxylic Acid.” The name may sound sophisticated and difficult, but it’s in no comparison to the actual creation. This invention is incredibly important; the batteries contributes to the strong, useful power that keeps international space stations in activity.

The author and director of numerous scientific experiments, González-Sanabria has had her share on leadership positions. In 2002, she was promoted to Director of Engineering at the Glenn Center, thus making her the highest rank Hispanic at the center. Since then, she has been granted the Presidential Rank Award, YWCA Women of Achievement Award, the NASA Medal of Outstanding Leadership Award, and the Women of Color in Technology Career Achievement in Award. Way to go, chica!

 

Dr. Antonia Novello
Surgeon General

Another praiseworthy Puerto Rican scientist on our list, Dr. Antonia Novello, a physician, served as the fourteenth Surgeon General of the United States of America, making her the first woman and the first Hispanic to own that title.

Dr. Novello’s inspiration to pursue a life in the curative field was caused by personal medical battles she faced as a child. Although the condition has never been specified, we know it only could’ve been corrected by surgery. She wasn’t able to be qualify for surgery until the age of 20. Dr. Novello’s childhood suffering made her promise herself that she would study hard so she can help people in the same situation.

She graduated and received a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Puerto Rico, and then went on to receive her M.D at the same institution’s medical school. Dr. Novello earned another degree in Public Health at the John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. After years of studying, she insisted on furthering her knowledge by completing a medical training in nephrology, the study of kidneys, at the University of Michigan. There, Dr. Novello was also named Intern of the Year; she was the first woman to earn that title.

In the year 1978, Dr. Novello’s career begun at the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She joined the specific division at the National Institution of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Disorders, and soon became the deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Her main concern was pediatric, or children, AIDS.

More than a decade later, former President George H. W. Bush appointed Dr. Novello as Surgeon General of the United States of America. A Surgeon General is the senior medical military officer, and Dr. Novello was the first woman and the first Hispanic to earn that title. In this position, Dr. Novello focused on issues concerning children, women, and minorities, and spoke out on many occasions about HIV/AIDs, underage drinking, tobacco industries, drug use, and health care. Latinitas definitely rank Dr. Novello high in our hearts for having the courage to speak out about important causes and making her-story!

Mei Len Sanchez
Marine Biologist

Mei Len Sanchez is a Costa Rican marine biologist and entrepreneur who founded Eco Adventures, an educational program and facility to provide awareness for children about conservation, endangered animals, and the overall protection of wildlife.

Sanchez was first intrigued by marine animals in a bittersweet epiphany during a moonlit evening in her native land Costa Rica. She witnessed a couple of sea turtles gracefully swimming upon the sandy shore to nest; Sanchez never saw an animal so majestic. Little did she know her tío, along with other poachers, were there to snatch the eggs to sell. It was then, at age 8, Sanchez knew she wanted to dedicate her life to the animals of the deep blue.

She studied rigorously, and was able to attend the University of Miami to study right near any aspiring marine biologist’s dream workplace – the ocean! Oddly, Sanchez’s senior thesis was based on lizards; this was most likely because it’s in relation to Sanchez’s fondness of alligators. Nonetheless, she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology and Science.

Sanchez’s degree and passion for animals opened many opportunities for her, including working at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the National Audubon Society, and the Miami Seaquarium. She became such a great speaker and advocate for her admiration for the ocean and the living things residing in it, she eventually convinced her tío to stop poaching! Any animal lover can agree that that’s a huge victory.

When she became a new mother, she took a long-time off work to dedicate her time to parenting. However, this wouldn’t last long. Eco Adventures was opened in the state of Maryland by Sanchez, who also serves as executive director, to inform youth about conservation and wildlife. The facility operates after school programs and summer camps in their replicated underwater and rainforest discovery rooms.

Sanchez earned numerous awards and recognition in the past few years. She has been featured in the Baltimore Times in celebration of Women’s History Month, and Latina Magazine as one of the many inspirational Hispanic women in the science field. And here she is – the last, but certainly not least, scientist on OUR list to inspire you!

Latinas in Sports

We’re highlighting the top Latinas in sports history. These chicas poderosas know the importance of fitness, endurance, and passion for sports.

Rebecca Lobo is an American television basketball analyst and former women’s basketball player in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) from 1997 to 2003. Lobo played college basketball at the University of Connecticut, where she was a member of the team that won the 1995 national championship. Her father is of Cuban, Spanish, Polish and Ashkenazi Jewish descent, while her mother was of German and Irish heritage.
Marlen Esparza is an American boxer who in 2012 competed at the Olympics, became the first American woman to qualify for the Olympics in the first year that women’s boxing was an Olympic event. She won the bronze medal in the women’s flyweight division at the 2012 Olympics in London. Esparza has an endorsement deal with Cover Girl cosmetics. She also appeared in a Spanish language commercial for Coca-Cola, and on a commercial for McDonald’s. Esparza was the subject of Soledad O’Brien’s 2011 CNN documentary, Latino in America 2: In Her Corner

Amy Rodríguez is an American soccer player who currently plays for FC Kansas City in the National Women’s Soccer League and is also a member of the United States women’s national soccer team. She is called “A Rod” by her teammates and sometimes by soccer commentators. Her paternal grandparents were from Cuba and immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. In 2005, was considered the nation’s top recruits and was named National Player of the Year by Parade Magazine, EA Sports and NSCAA. She was a four-time all-league selection and All-CIF honoree. 

Nancy López is an American professional golfer. She became a member of the LPGA Tour in 1977 and won 48 LPGA Tour events during her LPGA career, including three major championships. Lopez was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1987. Lopez is the only woman to win LPGA Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and the Vare Trophy in the same season. Her company, Nancy Lopez Golf, makes a full line of women’s clubs and accessories.

Dara Torres is a former American competition swimmer who is a twelve-time Olympic medalist and former world record-holder in three events. Torres is the first and only swimmer to represent the United States in five Olympic Games and, at age 41, was the oldest swimmer ever to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Torres has won twelve Olympic medals, one of three women with the most Olympic women’s swimming medals. Torres was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Edward Torres and Marylu Kauder. Her father was a real estate developer and casino owner; her mother Marylu was a former model.  

Brenda Villa is an accomplished American water polo player. She is the most decorated athlete in the world of women’s water polo. Villa was named Female Water Polo Player of the Decade for 2000-2009 by the FINA Aquatics World Magazine. Villa started swimming with a club team, Commerce Aquatics, at the age of six, and followed her brother into water polo at eight years old. She made the girls’ Junior Olympic Team while in high school. At Bell Gardens High School, Villa played with the boys’ water polo team because her school did not have a girls’ team.

Diana López is an American Olympic Taekwondo competitor from Sugar Land, Texas. She represented the United States at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she won a bronze medal. In 2005, Diana and her brothers made history by becoming the first three siblings, in any sport, to win World titles at the same event, when they did so at the 2005 World Taekwondo Championships in Madrid, Spain and in 2008, Diana and her brothers made history again by becoming only the second set of three or more siblings to all qualify for the Olympics. 

 

Jennifer Rodríguez  is a Cuban-American speed skater. She started her career as an artistic roller skater, winning multiple national championships and placing second and third at world championships. Later she switched to inline speed skating and became world champion in 1993. In 1996 she made another career move by giving it a try on ice, in order to have a chance to make the Olympic team. Rodríguez participated in the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, winning two bronze medals in Salt Lake City in 2002. She is also known by the nicknames Miami Ice and J-Rod “dame cucita.”

Latinas in Comedy

MusicEverybody, regardless of their age or background, wants to laugh and be entertained. After having faced a stressful day, plenty of us would revel in the thought of having our mood lightened by turning to our favorite comedy shows for a laugh. It is safe to say that with mediums like television, YouTube, and Netflix, comedy has never been more accessible in this country. However, by whom the comedy is being performed is what we as viewers and audience members should be taking into consideration at present.

It can also be safe to say that diverse identities are definitely represented in the world of comedy, particularly in stand-up comedy, for example, but to what extent? In many ways, comedy in the United States is still an industry that is dominated by men. So what does that mean for female comedians, more specifically, Latinas? Well, there are certainly Latina comedians who have risen to fame, overcoming the obstacles that the industry has placed before them, such as Anjelah Johnson and Cristela Alonzo, both of whom have had successful stand-up careers. In their performances, Johnson and Alonzo have been known to discuss their experiences growing up in Mexican American households. In fact, Alonzo even had her own show, Cristela.

Although there are those in the industry who are striving to connect to audiences of diverse backgrounds, there are still well-known comedians who would argue against this practice.

“Without diversity in comedy…we limit ourselves to listening to the same kinds of experiences and points of view, which limits our ability to progress,” states 21-year-old Emily Crispell. Emily suggests that comedy intersecting with identities that relate to gender, ethnicity, culture, class, and so on, help create performances that are more accessible to modern Americans.

One particular Latina comedian whose work reflects Emily’s perspective is Sandra Valls, who has been doing stand-up since the mid-2000s. In her stand-up routines, Valls is known for discussing how her identities as a lesbian and as a Mexican American intersect. “One of my goals is to represent the LGBT community and Latinos and women, and to make a difference, not just be funny,” states Valls in a 2007 interview.

Both Sandra Valls as a professional comedian and Emily Crispell as a viewer can agree that relatability is essential when it comes to finding the humor in another’s jokes and stories, especially since the reason why one may become a fan of a particular comedian usually goes beyond a single joke. For example, Emily comments that she is a big fan of Aubrey Plaza’s role as April Ludgate in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. “A lot of people don’t seem to know that she is Latina because she is fair skinned but she is half Puerto Rican. Recently, she “came out” as Latina in an interview…she talked about not feeling Latina enough… I really connected to Aubrey Plaza’s struggle…” Emily is half Dominican and understands what it is like to be ethnically misidentified.

It may be that in terms of diversity, the American comedy industry is nowhere near perfect, especially when it comes to the influence of Latinos and Latinas. However, it is clear that through the work of comedians like Anjelah Johnson, Cristela Alonzo, Sandra Valls, and Aubrey Plaza, progress is being made. As representatives of the Latino community, they are able to draw attention to the big issues like immigration and discrimination, and even daily concerns relating to food and language differences.