Career: Julie Chávez Rodríguez to Latinas, “¡Sí Se Puede!”

When you are an ambitious and/or successful Latina, you are a role model no matter what. That’s because despite our consolidation of power as an economic and political bloc, a gap remains, especially in terms of educational and career achievement.

Simply put, there aren’t enough Hispanics in positions of power.

That means that for the few who sit on any perch, we hear the chirps of our chicks, sometimes very loud, and know we must fly back to the nest to feed them with attention, advice, and sometimes tough love.

My female, Asian, and African-American friends will relate. They also know that sometimes, it gets tiring.

“Can’t I just take a day off and watch SITC re-runs?”

In Career: Julie Chávez Rodríguez to Latinas, ¡Sí Se Puede!

Big. ‘Nuf Said. Courtesy: Craig Blankenhorn

“Can’t I veg and find out about Kris’ latest Kardashian pimpa-rama?”

Well claro que sí.

But not really.

That’s because the need is so great to inspire kids who may be short on the “playbook” in the form of professional and college-educated parents teaching them the secret handshake of success. But they’re long on ganas.

Something as insignificant as a little exposure–a career day appearance, seeing someone on the nightly news, can launch a flotilla of dreams.

I know because I’m one of them.

So quickly, “it” becomes larger than “you” or “me,” and it adds fuel to a fire that in our tired state is barely smoldering. It ignites and helps us “to keep on, keepin’ on.”

Career: Julie Chávez Rodríguez to Latinas, "¡Sí Se Puede!"

The White House’s Julie Chávez Rodríguez with young Latinas at an Hispanic community summit in Maryland.

If you’re a regular The Wise Latina Club reader, you know that I don’t always see eye to eye with President Obama or his White House which is the way it’s supposed to be because I’m independent-minded and not on their payroll.

Still, when I was thinking of whom to pitch for the Latina Magazine feature segment “Inspiring Latina of the Week,” it was a no-brainer: Julie Chávez Rodríguez who is a lead at the White House on Latino issues and immigration.

Oh yeah. She also is the granddaughter of César Chávez.

Imagine that.

A man who had to fight for basic workplace rights for Americans, has a descendant working to fulfill his promise at the heart of power. Upward mobility in two generations and she shares how she got there.

I can’t hear you:

¡AMERICA ROCKS!

Yes it does.

Happy César Chávez Day! Q & A with His Granddaughter, Julie Chávez Rodríguez

published in Latina Magazine on March 29, 2013

I meet Julie Chávez Rodríguez inside the White House in what was once the room where a century ago the Secretary of War (now Defense) met to protect and preserve our country. Today, as an associate director in the office of Public Engagement, this petite Latina works to communicate President Obama’s vision on a wide range of issues such as health care, the economy, education, and immigration to Americans, especially Latinos. She is also the granddaughter of civil and labor rights icon César Chávez. Before the White House, she worked for nine years for the foundation dedicated to preserving his legacy (his contributions are honored on March 31st–César Chávez Day). During our interview, I ask about her job, the role of mentors in her life including her abuelo, and what advice this inspiring Latina has for aspiring young women:

Viviana Hurtado/Latina: Can you explain what the Office of Engagement is?

Julie Chávez Rodríguez/White House: We see this at the front door to the White House, an opportunity for the community, leaders as well as every day people, to connect with the White House, the President’s agenda, and to have input into the policies we’re developing that affect their daily lives on issues like immigration, healthcare, or education.

Viviana Hurtado/Latina: What advice do you have for Latinas for career advancement?

Julie Chávez Rodríguez/White House: One of the hardest things I had to deal with was the passing of my grandfather not just because it was losing a grandfather but it was losing a hero, a mentor, someone that for me had been such a guiding light. Those mentors are invaluable not just in terms of providing you with guidance and support but being a connection in whatever sector you want to get into. I also think education is critical. For me going off to college was one of the best experiences of my life. It forced me to grow personally. It challenged me academically. Without getting a college education, it’s much more difficult for our community to succeed.

Viviana Hurtado/Latina: I’m the daughter of immigrants. My parents speak English as a second language. For a lot of Latinos in high school and college they think, “they’re no way I could ever get to the White House.” What message do you have on attaining the “unattainable” dream?

Julie Chávez Rodríguez/White House: If someone had asked me five years ago that I would be at the White House doing this interview with you, I would have said they were out of their minds. I think there have been important efforts as far as leadership development that this Administration has helped to provide. The most important thing is to always be prepared to take that next step, to always think big, to never assume that you are limited in any way, and to continue to strive to meet your potential. As my grandfather always said, Sí Se Puede!

To read more of Viviana’s Latina politics columns, click here.

Do you have mentors? What has been their role in your personal and professional development?

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