Monday, August 4, 2014


My romance stories feature strong, smart and successful Latinas in search of their Happily Ever Afters. But while my characters may be make-believe, the women I'll introduce you to in this new column are definitely real.

These Real Life Latina Heroines are the authors of their own success stories. They are inspirational role models who are committed to making a difference and making an impact in their community, culture and career field. 


Who is she?
Maria is the Director of Community Relations and Outreach for the MIND Research Institute, a nonprofit based in Irvine, CA dedicated to ensuring that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world's most challenging problems by revolutionizing math education through visual learning. 

On her career path...
"Going through Santa Ana Unified School District (in Santa Ana, CA) and growing up in the hood, I didn’t even dare to dream. Education meant nothing to me, although grades were never an issue.  I never learned study habits or enjoyed reading, yet I was able to pull good grades somehow. My mind and spirit were always at home watching over my younger siblings, cooking and cleaning. If you asked me back then what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would've given you a blank stare and said, "Besides a great wife and a loving mother? What else is there?"  

After dropping out of college to get married and join motherhood, I had an emptiness in my life. The day I saw my son with his little cap and gown posing for his kindergarten graduation picture, it clicked. I decided to act on what so many people had seen in me: the potential to become a professional. I didn’t want to be another statistic. I earned my education and no one can ever take that away. I owe that to the great mentors and empowering role models I had.

In the year 2000 I wanted to see what volunteering was all about so I went through training and was offered a job. There I met one of my first professional mentors who took me under her wing and taught me the career basics: how to dress, proper handshakes, email etiquette etc. She also taught me to be a professional “Pedishe” all for a cause I believed in.

I started helping with special events and began my career as a fundraiser. At MIND I was able to help develop our first gala that went from raising $130,000 to over $700,000. Then they challenged me to start fundraising through relationship building and grants. I went from raising $50,000 the first year to $800,000 last year."

On her passion…
"My passion is to provide resources and guidance to our low-income families and to give them the encouragement to dream and make those dreams a reality.  I love talking to parents about the possibilities available to them. I want them to break out of the cycle of just sitting and waiting around for an opportunity to fall onto their laps. I help them go out and seek those opportunities."

On being a Latina…
"I'm a Mexicana born in Zamora, Michoacan. Although I came to live to the states when I was very young and went through the school system here, I needed to communicate with my parents and grandparents, so losing my language was not acceptable. I am very grateful for having been taught to think, read and express myself in Spanish. I also was taught values, respect and humility above all, and also how bright colors and great music can bring up your spirit.  I can be asking for a million dollars in the morning and then come home to cook frijoles de la Olla to feed my son and fiancĂ© before going to soccer practice. I am an educated Latina -- scholastically, culturally and ethically.  My favorite hashtag is #OrgullosaLatina.

Being a Latina to me represents having an in-depth impact in my community.  You can speak and understand two languages and two cultures; it means that you can take the best of two worlds to make a better one. It also reflects the hard work and the sacrifices our parents went through to make sure we kept our culture, while adopting a new one. I am a proud Latina who honors this country for the opportunities provided to me, my family and those who have dreams."       

On her worries and fears…
"One of my biggest worries is wondering what kind of human being my son will grow up to be.  For many years I was so stuck on making sure he was academically smart, but at some point I realized that I was only focusing on what society wanted from my child, not what I wanted and certainly not what he wanted. By supporting his passion I have been able to gain his trust and respect, and he can see where my passion has taken me.  Once he tested my reaction by telling me that when he grew up he wanted to be a "paletero" (someone who sells ice cream on the street). My answer to that was, "As long as you can wake up each morning smiling and know this is what gives you the lifestyle you are happy with, then go out and be the best paletero out there."  In reality he wants to be a professional soccer player so he can get a scholarship to UCLA and then work for Nike's marketing team.  I believe he will do that.”

On the idea of Happily Ever After…
“It means standing up for your beliefs and the reasons that make you smile. At the end of the day, it is those who can bring out that smile during the rough times who will be the ones to find their happily ever after.”

On her own love story…

"I was an educated Latina and single mom making it on my own who became friends with someone who had no academic education, but had the purest love for life. He gets up each morning whistling, talking to his plants and thanking God for his health and his job as a landscaper. He taught me how to live in the moment, cherish family and laugh out loud. After almost four years of being together, I will be marrying my #1 cheerleader and motivator. Many people, including my family, may make faces and comments, but guess what? This is my happiness, and my son has found a friend he can trust and share his dreams with. The three of us respect and support one another and balance each other out."

Special thanks to Maria Cervantes for my being my first profile! 
If you or someone you know would like to be featured as a Real Life Latina Heroine, please contact me at

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