Today, as an associate director in the Office of Public Engagement, this petite Latina works to communicate President Barack 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 grand-daughter 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 asked about her job, the role of mentors in her life including her abuelo, and what advice this inspiring Latina has for aspiring young women:
Can you explain what the Office of Public Engagement is?
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.
What advice do you have for Latinas for career advancement?
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.
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?
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!
Viviana Hurtado Ph.D., founder of the Hispanic woman-focused news and current events website The Wise Latina Club, is Latina’s Washington, DC-based political correspondent. Read Viviana's political posts here.