“I think that when you have a passion for something, you’re always going to be dedicated.” –Diana Rodriguez
To kick-off the series of Latino Professionals with a Sí Se Puede Attitude, we have Diana Rodriguez, a remarkable young lady from Pilsen who has been a great mentor to me and many others.
Gozamos: What was your childhood like growing up in Pilsen?
Diana Rodriguez: Very interesting. I went to Orozco Academy and Whitney Young Magnet High School, both of which had the same focus on education and empowerment. I started to see the stereotypes and all the negativity focused on people from Pilsen, so I knew education was the key to being successful; not necessarily because I wanted to leave the community, but so I could do something positive. I wanted to show that something positive COULD come from Pilsen. A lot of focus was on kids getting pregnant or getting into gangs, but you never heard of those kids who were making it or those adults who were doing good things.
Growing up, what was your biggest motivation to succeed in life?
DR: My mother always stressed the importance of higher education. She didn’t obtain a degree and always regretted it. I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that came along with obtaining an education. I wanted to do something positive and be independent without having to rely on someone for financial help.
Where do you work, and how did you become interested in that field?
DR: I’m a Senior Auditor at Deloitte & Touche, a public accounting firm. I audit clients in the manufacturing and healthcare industries and supervise the daily activities of the audits and the staff. I initially became interested when I took a high school class in accounting. I was volunteering at a non-profit and at that time had the goal of eventually starting my own non-profit. I felt that many non-profits perform great work, but don’t understand the business side of running a non-profit. I felt that an accounting degree could help me become more prepared to run my own organization. As I went through college and continued to volunteer, I realized that I didn’t need to start my own organization because I could use what I learned professionally to assist existing ones.
Do you think that how and where you grew up affected your expectations of the professional, or “real” world?
DR: In corporate America, you don’t see very many Hispanics or women. When I started my career, I always felt very different from my colleagues because I felt that I came from such a different background. Throughout the years, I’ve learned not to feel that way anymore. Growing up in Pilsen, I learned that you have to work hard for what you want because nothing was ever handed to you. I had to figure out different aspects of my life like how I was going to pay for college, or how to seek opportunities to even go to college. That is what I’m trying to do in my career: accomplish what I want by working hard for it. You have to fight for your dreams. I truly believe that hard work does pay off. This world is very competitive, and I’m slowly learning that you have to own your career and seek out what you want to achieve.
What are some non-profits you volunteered for, and what role did you play?
DR: I have volunteered at several organizations, but the one closest to my heart is Latinos Progresando, which provides legal services for immigrant families and youth. I started as a volunteer in high school and I was involved with helping to start its college-bound youth group (C-BYG). In fall of 2009, I became part of the Board of Directors and then the Board Treasurer. Through C-BYG, we raised money for college scholarships, held college workshops, and tried to provide mentorships for students interested in higher education. Even though we never got the money to completely fund it the way we wanted to, I’m proud of it because the organization is still providing scholarships after all these years. When I was Board Treasurer, I tried to help the organization better understand its financials and have a more formalized reporting process. I believed that if the organization better understood its financials and business condition, it would be able to provide better services. Unfortunately, due to my demanding work schedule, I left the Board of Directors in late 2011 but still try my best to contribute whenever I can.
How do you manage to balance your time doing all these good things, and still holding a professional career?
DR: My career is very demanding, but I always really cared about Latinos Progresando. I would go to the office on weekends and nights, or whenever I found the time. I think that when you have a passion for something, you’re always going to be dedicated. My job became something I had to dedicate more time in, and I figured out I couldn’t help the way that I wanted to so I stepped back from the Board of Directors last year. I still help when I can by attending events, and I give financially to other organizations as well as mentor students. I want to get to the point where I can be more involved again when I have more free time.
Alright, so now that you have been through it, and we know que “sí se puede,” what advice do you have for upcoming future Latino professionals?
DR: I know it may sound cliché, but always try your best. Every mistake is a learning opportunity. Even when I make mistakes, I try to always look at it as an opportunity for growth rather than a failure. Even at my job, which is very demanding and challenging, I can always say that I try my best. So, try your best and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’m still trying to learn to not be afraid to make mistakes. I feel that this year has been the most challenging professionally, but I don’t regret it because I’ve learned so much.
Why do you think it is important that Latinos give back to the community and share their stories?
DR: There are still a lot of communities where all you hear is negativity, and the kids accept that it’s their fate to not succeed and so they don’t have hope for opportunities. If they see people who can relate to them and are educated, it is a bit of hope. The educational attainment rate is low in the Hispanic community. While I know education is not for everyone, it is beneficial. You can pay it forward and do positive things and potentially inspire others. You should be proud of where you come from. I know I am.