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


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

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

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.

Hollywood Movie Director Carmen Marron

Carmen Marron is a filmmaker and the founder of Sparkhope Productions, a company dedicated to creating films that bring awareness to women’s issues and teen struggles. Latinitas got the chance to speak with Hollywood movie director Carmen Marrón about her upcoming Latino-focused film, and her advice to Latinitas on how to chase your dreams! Carmen produced the 2011 movie ‘Go For It’ starring Gina Rodriguez and her new movie ‘Endgame’ is set to hit theatres soon. Her story is sure to inspire you to follow your destiny.Film Producer

Latinitas Reporter (Mariel):

Hi Carmen! Why don’t you tell us about your newest movie ‘Endgame’ that you presented at the Dallas Film Festival ?


Endgame is my latest movie and it is an inspirational drama that is actually inspired by true events in Texas. We shot the movie in Brownsville, Texas. It’s about a teacher who teaches at a time in which Brownsville, Texas was the third poorest community in the US. The teacher takes a bunch of these detention kids (Rico Rodriguez from Modern Family plays the lead character) and starts teaching them about chess thinking that this would be a positive way to keep them focused on school and keep them out of trouble. Through practice and over time he realizes that they’re really good, so he puts a team together. Lo and behold, this team starts winning! They ended up winning all the regionals. Then in the teacher’s second year as coach for the team, they ended up winning the state championship. And then they ended up winning 7 years in a row after that! It’s an amazing story.

L: Well, I’m excited to see this film. How did it go showing the film at the Dallas Film Festival?

C: Oh, phenomenal! We screened the film twice at the festival and the audience loved it. They really did. The theatrical release is probably going to be at the end of summer. The distributor is still looking into different theatres. Right now it’s scheduled just for the East Coast and the West Coast, but the distributor is actively looking to put in in theatres in Chicago, and probably in Dallas.

L: Another topic I wanted to touch on: Both of your films – ‘Go For It’ and ‘Endgame’ – feature Latino leads and lots of other Latino characters. How does your identity as a Latina woman play a role in the movies you choose?

C: Well, I’ll tell you a little bit of my background because I think that’s just as big a part. I actually was a guidance counselor in South Phoenix. I grew up in inner city Chicago in an all Latino, very poverty-stricken community. I was one of ten kids. I put myself through college, through graduate school, and then I personally chose to work in the direst school district because I felt like I could relate to the kids. So when I moved to Phoenix I chose to work in the poorest community because I used to be one of those kids, I related to them.

But what I saw as guidance counselor was that these kids really looked up to characters in television and film as role models for guidance and answers, and it killed me. I was seeing young kids look up to Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears, literally even dying their hair and buying colored contacts. And so I thought, “Oh my gosh, there are hardly any Latino role models on television and in film!” And I saw that the majority of Latinas in Hollywood played the maids, the housekeepers, the nannies. That’s when I decided to become a filmmaker. And I made the conscious decision to specifically focus on creating roles for Latinos and young women that are very empowering and show them in leadership positions while also addressing their issues.

L: Were there any failures along the path to success?

C: Oh gosh, yes. I had family and friends telling me to stop, to just give up, that it wouldn’t work. It was like 2 years of people slamming the door on me or laughing at me. It took me seven years to finish my first film. In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about making a movie. I set up and researched everything. I actually got a job as a pharmaceutical rep just to help me pay the way to making my own film. I basically moved to LA with nothing but a dream, and I made it happen, ultra low budget.

L: I’m so curious to know: how did you keep the fire in you to keep trying despite the whole world telling you not to?

C: To be totally honest, I can get emotional right now just talking about it. It was my firm belief in the message I wanted to send young girls: that they could achieve their dreams. I had been working with girls that didn’t think there was anything for them out there besides getting married and having kids, and a lot of these girls were getting pregnant at really young ages, and I just desperately believed my movie could inspire girls and make a difference in their lives. They have the right to be proud about themselves. I truly believe it was the path I was supposed to take in life. I believe that the life I’m leading is my destiny.

L: That’s so inspiring! Do you have any special message for Latinitas?

C: If I can do it, you can do it. Anything you can imagine can become your reality. Focus on your goals and give it your all. You have a destiny to fulfill.

Career Spotlight: Ada Alvarez Conde

Ada Alvarez Conde, Women’s Rights AdvocateAdaAlvarez
Position: Senate & Fundación Alto al Silencio
Director of the Committee for Women Issues
Hometown:  San Juan Puerto Rico

Describe your work:
I founded a non-profit to create awareness of dating violence and to prevent domestic violence. I’ve given more than 300 conferences in schools, universities, communities, churches or wherever invited. Since I’ve been so active, I also got into policy to eradicate violence. After all my activism I got a job at the Senate because of proposals of bills I wrote to criminalize dating violence, among other policy I’ve been able to write. In the Senate, I’m the Director of the Committee for Women Issues which means any legislation related to gender and women will pass through here. I have to do everything so it goes through the democratic process for it to become law (public hearings, etc to be approved in Senate) and then House, maybe signed by the Governor and becomes a Law.

Education & Training: I have a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism with a minor in Gender Studies from the University of Puerto Rico, a Masters in Science in Mass Communication from Florida International University and I’m doing a PhD in History of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. I also have 2 post-graduate degrees/certificates -one in documentary filmmaking and other in Diplomacy and International Relations (I’m happy to study so much, a proud #latinathatreads a lot). I’ve been volunteering since I was 14. I believe a great tool to prepare for my career was to develop experience. I applied to an internship in 2006 where I worked with Nancy Pelosi, it was a joint program of The Washington Center with PR and Government. After that, I participated in an internship with HACU, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. While studying Journalism I became an active member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalist, where I have served in the Board for 4 years in different positions. I believe the best thing about college were extra curricular activities, applying to internships and saving money to travel. I have traveled with my school in several occasions and I believe it was the best thing I invested in. A lot of people are afraid to be alone because they think they can’t handle situations. It is when you are alone and abroad that you confront yourself and everything you are. When you succeed in doing something, you gain self love and freedom. Being independent and seeing what you are worth is the best thing about the college experience.

How did you find your current job?
I found my current job doing a media tour. I wrote 2 bills (drafts) and I gave 20 conferences in a month. I was proposing a law so that February (as US does already) is declared Dating Violence Awareness Months in Puerto Rico. I wrote a Dating Violence Law. After doing an educational campaign and sending several press releases, I got a Senator to interview me, I landed the job!

What is your favorite part of your job?
I love my job because I feel very complete. I’m having a salary for the first time to do my activism all day. The financial road has been really rocky, but I’ve been blessed that all this work has paid off and I know I have a bunch more to give!

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part is balancing life. I think there’s a lot of pressure given to women in politics. I have heard many times that I can do this job because I don’t have kids yet. People have questioned why am I not married yet. This is clearly a gender issue, I don’t see people asking that to any guys working here. However, a lot of people see me as a motivation. Every time I feel I help save a life through education or legislation I feel blessed. I have been through two open heart surgeries and I need one more next year. To have a job like this requires a lot of sacrifices and hour;  however, we need to balance our personal life with our professional life. I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, I plan to work as hard. Kids and family to a women should be a motivation not a limitation. Is very important to have support from your family. If by any chance you don’t have family support, you are broke or you have a health or personal issue, look for strength and remember we are warriors. See yourself in the mirror and say “yo valgo mucho” (I am worth a lot). Spread the word of solidarity. The world needs more peace instead of violence and it starts with a smile.

No seas víctima del silencio
Don’t become a victim of silence
Twitter @AdaAlvarez8

Girl Power at Pachanga Fest

MusicAnother success for Pachanga Latino Music Festival! On May 14-16 the music event and Austin cultural staple expanded to include cities Dallas and Houston for the first time. Last year Pachanga proved a huge hit when crowds flocked to see singer Julieta Venegas  and this year, its 8th year running, the fest continued to draw crowds with a mix of well-known Hispanic musicians and bands and smaller, indie ones.

The crowds Pachanga attracts are also impressively diverse, demonstrating the fest’s ability to cater to many different types of people. Earlier in the day families with small children abounded, exploring the many kid-focused activities organized for little ones. A little later, once the big-name bands like Compass and Kinky began to play, the groups of teenagers and adults sans kids poured into the fest. What’s more people came all over Texas, out-of-state and even outside the country as many Mexican tourists showed up to cheer on national favorites like Ceci Bastida and Kinky.

A noticeable theme throughout the fest was the impressive display of musical ‘girl power.’ Throughout the day and evening the fest featured girl bands or female musicians whose messages and styles expressed confidence in their femininity and in their dreams. In fact, one of the first bands to take the stage was none other than Austin, Texas’s own “Tiarra Girls”, a local band that has taken the city by storm. A rock band of three teenage sisters, they delighted the crowd by performing their own songs as well as covers of Selena and Juanes. Keep an eye on these girls – they are going places!

Not long after Ceci Bastida, Tijuana native who began her singing career at age 15, took the stage and bared her soul with pieces that explored politics and violence from a woman’s uniquely deep perspective. She has said in interviews that when she composed such pieces she was pregnant, wondering how to bring new life into such a dark world.  Her singing and lyrics felt uniquely female as they at once explored her fears and sought empowerment through them.

But perhaps the biggest hit of the night was Mala Rodriguez, who traveled all the way from Spain for a rare North American musical performance! Raised in a poor family she became involved in the music scene as a teenager and since become one of the first women to achieve success in Spanish-language hip-hop. At Pachanga she mesmerized the audience with fierce rap sets whose sheer power and speed most audiences are only used to hearing from male rappers.

Pachanga oganizers certainly chose well by including powerful female figures in their line-up. Who would Latinitas like to see in the lineup next year? Any ideas?

Mexican Girl Genius

MexicanGirlGeniusPaloma Noyola Bueno has been called a genius and the “next Steve Jobs.” In 2013 Wired magazine, a popular American publication that covers technology and business, compared this Mexican girl to the technology innovator Steve Jobs. The magazine compared the ten-year-old Paloma Noyola Bueno to the creator of Apple, proclaiming her technological and mathematical genius. She had just achieved the highest math score in the country on an exam similar to the United States’ SATs. She also achieved the third highest Spanish score.

Paloma’s genius comes from a surprising place. When she aced her exams she was jus a little girl living in poverty in Matamoros, Mexico. Her father had died of cancer a few months beforehand and her mother supported the family by selling metal scraps and food. What’s more, the school Paloma attended was next to a waste dump and lacked basic facilities like running water. It was also located in an incredibly dangerous area where drug cartels often battled. Two of Paloma’s classmates had mysteriously disappeared earlier that year. But in an environment dominated by poverty and violence, and without the opportunities or education that someone like Steve Jobs enjoyed, this little girl is proving that anything is possible. In her own words, she told media she believes “if you want it, you can do it.”

Not only does Paloma believe in her own ability to succeed despite the odds, she wants to help others in the process. Speaking to Mexican news outlet Azteca Noticias in October 2013 she said: “No seré la próxima Steve Jobs. Seré más grande porque voy a perfeccionar y hacer más fácil la técnica de la educación en el país.” (“I won’t be the next Steve Jobs. I will be greater because I will perfect and simplify Mexico’s educational techniques.”) She went on to add that she would like to be a mathematics teacher and work to ensure better education for children throughout Mexico. She does not want to just give children work. She believes what is most important is teaching children how to study and how to be motivated.

Since Paloma’s appearance in magazines and news outlets following her amazing test scores she has been low-key, staying out of the limelight to concentrate on her studies. Nonetheless her remarkable mind has catapulted her into somewhat of a celebrity in Mexico. Just a few months ago local government and philanthropists combined forces to buy the young girl and her impoverished family their own home on donated land. Thanks to Paloma’s dedication to her passion her family has escaped the unsafe living conditions of their former residence. What’s more, the entire nation is still praising her talent. Matamoros’s own mayor, Lety Salazar, marveled at Paloma’s determination to fight for her dreams no matter her circumstances.

To learn more about Paloma watch her Spanish-language interview with Univisión Noticias linked here. She is truly an inspiration, and an emblem of great things to come in Mexico. Keep an eye on her!

Latinas in Government & Law

March is Women’s History Month. sonia-sotomayorTo celebrate, Latinitas has decided to feature the wonderful and revolutionary women in history who have increased the representation of Latinas in government, politics and law.

Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor is the first Latina Justice appointed to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. She was born on June 25, 1954 in Bronx, New York. She is a descendent of Puerto Rican parents. She graduated summa com laude from Princeton University in 1976. She  went to Yale Law School where she attained her J.D. in 1979. Aside from working as an Assistant to the Attorney General, she was an avid participant for fundraising for funds that benefited the Puerto Rican society in New York. From 1992-1998, she served as a Federal Judge for the Southern District of New York. In 1998, she got promoted to as Court of Appeals Judge for the Second Circuit. That was until 2009, when President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice for the United States. From there, Congress confirmed the president’s request at a  vote of 68–31.

Hilda Solis
Hilda Solis is a politician who has membership in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. She was born on October 20, 1957, in Los Angeles, California to a Nicaraguan mother and a Mexican father. She obtained her Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. Solis later received her Masters of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. She kept on climbing up the political later until in 2000 Hilda Solis defeated the Democratic incumbent and she won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the first Latina to have ever serve for the U.S. Senate. From 2009-2013 she was the United States Secretary of Labor, meaning that she took care of any laws involving worker unions.

Linda Chavez-Thompson
Linda Chavez-Thompson is an Mexican-American radio personality and commentator. She was born on June 17, 1947 to American parents. She is a descendant of Mexican immigrants who had moved to New Mexico in the 17th century. In 1975, she was employed as an editor for the publications of one of the largest Education Unions in the United States, “American Federation of Teachers”. Chavez is a Republican and during President Ronald Reagan’s administration she became the highest-ranking woman serving as Staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. During George W. H. Bush’s administration, she became the first Latina to ever be nominated to the United States Cabinet as the Secretary of Labor. After her time as a politician, she has become a FOX News analyst.

Career Spotlight: Assistant Instructor

booksCarolyn Rhea Drapes is an instructor in the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), she holds a PhD and imparts English and business writing classes.

What are some of your job responsibilities?

As a graduate student, I seek to use the dissertation process and time to create new knowledge and collaborate with my peers. Moreover, as an Assistant Instructor, I am tasked with gaining teaching experience as an RWS instructor of undergraduate rhetoric and writing, technical writing, and business writing courses.

Describe your educational background and how it helped you prepare for your career?

After first graduating from Loretto, I entered UTEP immediately, but then left school to help raise a family and work. Later, when my younger daughter entered high school, I re-enrolled at UTEP and completed a BA in Creative Writing. I then entered the RWS program and completed a MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, and am now in its doctoral program. All said whether in the workplace or traditional classroom situations, my personal and work experiences have enabled me to bring a unique perspective to the classroom. In addition, working as a corporate Webmaster, visual specialist, and social media maven from the mid-90s through today has helped me to use this eclectic skill set which is perfect for teaching. Overall, I see this as a natural progression.

How did you find your current job?

Previously, all positions with the exception my position with El Paso Natural Gas Company (which was found through an agency) was obtain with the help of friends and associates. My current job differs in that it was acquired from being accepted into the graduate program. As an Assistant Instructor, I am assigned courses to teach each semester, including summer classes when the opportunity arises.

How did you prepare for this career?

To prepare to teach in the program, I first earned the required number of graduate level course credits, which included a pedagogy course. This training also included shadowing an experienced instructor within the program. That semester I attended her class and observed others while also attending my graduate courses. Before the end of that semester, I was helping lecture. Throughout the semester, my teaching mentor and I normed grades and discussed various issues that a teacher is likely to encounter in the classroom. Currently, I attend several meetings each semester with those in the program; in these, we have the opportunity to learn and explore various teaching methods. Continuing professional education in the field ensures that our camaraderie remain vital, informed, and progressive.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Helping students gain their own set of writing and research skills is always important. However, a favorite aspect is appreciating their hard work and why they seek to remain in school and work towards a specific goal. Each goal is as different as the students I teach. This inspires me as I enjoy hearing about their lives and listening to their stories. This helps me understand their situation, which allows me to encourage them to use their current and past experiences when earning their degree. Their reasons for furthering their education help me immensely. Each day in the classroom, I learn new things, and this helps me improve my own writing and research methods.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

An important challenge is to balance my research and writing with teaching and, of course, to make time for my family. My family supports me, which is vitally important to my teaching and working towards my degree. Without them, my life would be quite empty and more difficult to navigate.

What impact does your profession have on young Latinas?

We as graduate instructors seek to help all students better understand the importance of working towards a goal, whether it is the goal of an assignment, or the goal of completing their degree. We support their aims and goals, no matter the degree. Rarely do I ever see a student that is undeclared or uncertain about what they want to do with their lives; this shows me how focused our student population is. Latinas, as are all students, whether young or returning, are valued greatly at this institution. To that end, we are given the opportunity to impart our knowledge and to positively support them.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

Photography, drawing, and writing have been life-long passions. I have found that I tend to capture images surrounding my life each day and then seek to manipulate and use them creatively. Even if I am unable to leave campus or home, I find I am constantly composing, whether with images or texts. I also like to read and explore social media trends.

Does living in a border city make you more aware of Hispanic issues?

Of course. My entire life has been a voyage between cultures and economic situations, even when my family and I left El Paso for life in Northern New Mexico for a time. Moreover, as a child of and partner in bicultural marriages, I find we all walk a fine line between various communities constantly. It is interesting to view how each group works with, for, and against each other. We blend and separate constantly, which makes it difficult to find and work for positive change for the whole.

What advice would you give to help girls to prepare for a job like this?

I would say that young women of all ages should think about what it is that they wish to accomplish and then, how to best attain that goal or sets of goals. While the path may shift or change, each student, each woman has a great opportunity to enrich their lives by completing their degree and stepping out into the wider world ready to make a positive impact. If they seek a graduate degree, they should understand that they would enter not only a scholarly environment for themselves, but also learning one for her and for others as well. She will need to understand that she is there to share her skills and knowledge so that the next group of young Latinas can learn and grow positively from the experiences she will share with them.

Leading Latina: Rosa Rios Valdez

Written by Prakriti Bhardwa

rosa_rios_valdezThe passion that Rosa Rios Valdez has for economic development is astounding. For the last 24 years, Rosa has worked tirelessly to build BCL of Texas, a statewide nonprofit, from the ground up, helping establish BCL as one of Texas’s most prominent lenders and non-profit organizations.

She was there from the beginning, when there were only two employees in a former bank building, to today when that huge office now seems a little too small for the fast growing staff. By the time Rosa Rios Valdez was asked to lead BCL of Texas and become CEO, she had already had many years of experience in economic development.

By closely shadowing her managers and mentors, Rosa was able to gain the real life experience that many young adults lack and ultimately hope for. “I realized that I liked learning about entrepreneurs, learning about their business and their stories, and about their expansions,” said Rosa. “I was very lucky that all my bosses pushed me to take every opportunity that came my way. They also provided me with many ways to show and build my leadership skills in the economic development field.”

It wasn’t Rosa’s idea to start BCL of Texas, it was just something that came her way. She had been working in the economic development branch of a Central Texas utilities company, Rosa noticed that there wasn’t much of an SBA loan presence in these small rural towns she was visiting. After making note of this, Rosa mentioned this to the administration. They listened to her observation and followed up with her.

“They called me in a meeting in the office and pushed an envelope towards me,” said Rosa. “Inside the envelope was an application to start a small CDC. They told me that I was right, they didn’t have a presence in these small towns and they wanted me to lead this new venture. I gave the envelope back; it wasn’t something I had envisioned myself doing. I thanked them for the opportunity. However, I thought about it, and well, that was 24 years ago. It’s been very good.”

Throughout the years, the job hasn’t gotten any easier, but Rosa doesn’t mind. Being available to families, communities, businesses, small towns and civic leaders are all in a day’s work. “With BCL of Texas, we were regional and now we are state-wide,” said Rosa.

“So I would say that my job is harder now. We have hundreds of communities that we are responsible for assisting and huge regions of Texas that we serve. So the job is extremely demanding and you need to know and correctly represent the priorities of each of these small towns that BCL serves.” Rosa gets her inspiration from not only the people she surrounds herself with, but mainly through her passion for helping others and her commitment to helping local businesses and families. “I want to be a leader to the people around me and I want them to see the dedication that I put into the projects and people that come to us,” said Rosa. “I want to inspire and help them see how important it is to be dedicated to a cause and to push through any difficulties they may have.”

Being CEO isn’t a job that just anyone can do. The leader and face of the company has to have many different skill sets and has to be very adaptable to their surroundings and the people that they interact with. This tractability is something Rosa feels is important for a successful company. “You have to be extremely organized and you never know what a customer will need, what kind of call is going to come in,” said Rosa. “You always have to make sure that you know everything about what’s going on with the company. You have to be very focused on deadlines. You also have to be a great listener.” Another thing that Rosa appreciates is her staff. While her job continues to become more work-load heavy, she knows that she can rely on the people around her to pick up projects and things that she may not be able to. “What makes it work and the factor that pulls everything together is having skilled staff that can perform in all lines of business,” said Rosa. “A great staff can provide quality customer service and skills to help all BCL customers. That’s what makes the job a little easier.”

Being accustomed to such a fast paced and busy lifestyle, it seems that Rosa never has time to slow down. She never envisioned being CEO would mean having a job that carried over the 8-5 time frame. Working longer hours gets tough, but it’s something that Rosa is passionate about so she doesn’t necessarily mind. “I left a big organization with wonderful benefits to join a much smaller nonprofit,” said Rosa. “But the mission and the cause fit me. I have no regrets. It’s been wonderful.”

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