Latina Spotlight: Nydia M. Velazquez

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Nydia M. Velazquez, the Congresswoman, is originally from Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. She was born in a family where she was one of nine children, and was the first one in her family to earn a college diploma. Her passion for politics took her to where she stands today.

She has shaped history numerous times during her term in Congress. In 1992, she was the first Puerto Rican woman voted into the U.S. House of Representatives. Six years later in 1998, Nydia was named the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Hispanic woman to serve as a Ranking Member of a full House committee. The word “can’t” doesn’t exist in Nydia’s vocabulary! To add to her extensive list of accomplishments, in 2006 she was the first Latina to chair a full Congressional committee after being named Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee.

Velazquez is well known as an equal rights fighter and advocate of economic opportunity for the less fortunate and working class. Congresswoman Velázquez mixes intuition and sympathy as means to improve economic development, community health, environment, affordable housing and health care, and quality education for all the families in New York City. Nydia is a great example of how passion works as an inspiration to achieve your goals.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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 ?

Carmen:

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.

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.

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.”