Tell us a little bit about yourself? How do you identify as a Latino/a/x and what does that mean to you?
I am an immigrant from Bogota, Colombia. My mother brought my siblings and me to a small rural town in Oklahoma when I was starting high school. Growing up in Oklahoma, my mother believed it was important to continue our Colombian culture, which entailed eating the same food (arepas, arroz con pollo,) listening to our beloved cumbias, and maintaining the Spanish language within the family to sustain ties to our origins and our extended family. This sense of continuity, or preserving our culture, implied overcoming the danger of losing it. By keeping our Colombian culture alive at home, we found continuity in the new “foreign” culture and society in which we were immersed. Everything was different en un lugar extraño (a foreign place.) As Latina, I invest energy in maintaining my bilingual and bicultural skills. I believe that by honoring and celebrating the strengths of my Latina identity and the richness of our culture, I am in fact giving voice to my own experience.
My most salient identity is that of a Latina woman. I believe that self-perception, when it comes to ethnicity, together with the cultural background one grows up with, inevitably shapes the racial lens through which a person perceives herself and affects how others view her from the outside.
What inspired you to the work that you in your current position and how did you get there?
I currently serve as the Executive Director of Student Engagement and Inclusion at the University of St. Thomas. I have worked in higher education for over 25 years. As a Latina living in the United States, I have always felt a sense of responsibility to others who are under-represented and marginalized, and this is the primary reason why I became an educator.
As a student, I rarely had the opportunity to interact with teachers or administrators who could serve as role models for me. I never had a single Latinx teacher or college professor! As a Latina educator, I aim to serve as a positive, professional role model for students with whom I work. I advocate for students, and I strive to find ways to educate and prepare the next generation of Latino leaders. I believe education both opens doors and changes lives. I work within higher education in helping students overcome the systemic barriers that can limit success. My Latina identity shapes both my personal and professional life.
What is your experience with LatinoLEAD? How did you first hear about us?
I was looking for an organization that is investing in shaping Minnesota’s future by preparing Latino/a leaders for the highest levels of influence in government, business, philanthropy, and non-profit work. My Latino network connected me with LatinoLEAD! I have attended several of LatinoLEAD’s networking events and have been asked to present and facilitate LatinoLEAD’s Avanzando Liderazgo Program (ALP.)
Why do you think the work of LatinoLEAD is important for our community?
By 2050, Latinos will comprise nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. Today and in the future, the demographic destiny of the U.S. will be characterized by the growing Latino population. LatinoLEAD is bringing our community together! LatinoLEAD is expanding its reach to unite us across industry sectors, geography, and generations. LatinoLead programs provide leaders, entrepreneurs, and allies with the social capital to close the longstanding opportunity gaps and unlock the potential that Latinx leadership offers for the future of organizations, businesses, and our community. LatinoLEAD programs bring us together to learn from each other, share best practices, and discuss strategies to promote leadership and change for the Latino community.
Do you have any words, tips or thoughts to inspire the LatinoLEAD network?
Si Se Puede, or “Yes We Can,” is the basis of “adelante,” the value that has permeated my life experience. The phrase “Sí se puede” is rooted in the struggle of working-class Latinos. It was the rallying cry of the United Farm Workers Union in the 1970s, and today is the driving force that has our Latino community moving forward. Our conocimientos (beliefs or customs) of resistance and survival—handed down, consciously and unconsciously, by our families—has offered the support that helped us arrive at where we are today. Hold onto the dicho “Si Se Puede” because it provides us with the self-determination needed to continue and complete our journey. As Latinos/as I encourage you to embrace your cultural upbringing as a crucial part of your success and leverage what it means to be Latino/a. Pa’lante mi gente!