Every leader has a superpower and I believe that mine is being Latina. I am a bilingual mother of two, originally from the Rio Grande Valley. I grew up in a culture that valued our roots, our language and history.
My educational pursuits carried me to Rice University where I studied English, Latin American Studies and Political Science. I had plans to attend law school, but ultimately, education and charter schools found me, and I found my life’s work. Starting in 2003, I have worked to advance our YES Prep mission in many different roles, ultimately with the same goal – to ensure all students have access to a college ready education.
How being a Latina influences my life
I believe in falling more and more in love with your culture, while also trying to make it better. Because of this, I try to draw on my cultural background in everything I do.
Pride in who you are and where you come from is essential to combatting the messages that may tell you that you don’t belong or aren’t good enough to be there.
I was raised to be proud of my roots as an eighth generation Tejana, and to appreciate my ancestors and relatives from different Latin American countries. Pride in who you are and where you come from is essential to combatting the messages that may tell you that you don’t belong or aren’t good enough to be there. My dad used to tell me, “El que es gallo, en cualquier gallinero canta.” This translates to, if you are a rooster, you can crow in any hen house.
While it was hard to be in spaces where I was the only Latina after leaving the Valley, I worked to see my identity as an asset. I had the opportunity to be mentored by incredible Latinas, beginning with my grandmother, my mother and then professionally, others that taught me how to navigate in my own power. My greatest hope is that I can pass this along to others in my work.
Inspired by my Latina grandmother
My grandmother was the greatest inspiration in my life. She was a brilliant Latina, elegant, smart, and very dedicated to her community. Despite not having the opportunity to go to college, she worked her way up from bank teller to VP of Banking in a financial industry dominated by men. She instilled in me the mindset of always, always, always giving your absolute best. To give anything less was to sacrifice the gift.
She was also an exemplar of staying committed and connected to your community. She created microloan programs for people in the community that needed a car, or tuition to start college or even to start a small business. Everywhere we went, people would come to thank her for the impact she had on their life when they needed someone to believe in them the most. I strive to show the same level of empathy she did and to utilize my privilege to help others.
How my culture influences my work at YES Prep
At YES Prep, I try to bring my cultural lens to what I do and what I can influence. For example, operating a bilingual program in elementary schools was very important to me. The books we read in our classrooms is also important. I didn’t read authors of color until I was in college, and I knew this had to change for our students. Participating in the affinity summits, advocating for our Emergent Bilingual students and educating others about our culture is constant.
More than anything, I use my voice to eliminate low expectations for our students and communities. I also recognize and voice that as a community, we have work we need to do. That work of eliminating colorism and other exclusive mindsets starts with each of us.
Top three books every Latinx person should read
One way I try to educate myself about my culture is to read books by Latinx authors. Here are three of my favorites:
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio – This book tells the story of different undocumented immigrants and the impact their journeys to America have had on them and others.
The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales takes place in my beloved South Texas and depicts so many beautiful cultural moments.
For children, Yuyi Morales writes some wonderful books. Niño Wrestles the World is my son’s favorite.
It was announced recently that Hispanics represented the largest demographic group in Texas. I challenge us to think about what we will do with this collective opportunity. Will we vote? Will we demand better educational opportunities for our children and generations to come? Will we build bridges to others? Will we inspire and uplift each other?
I hope we do and that we constantly push forward for a better, more equitable and beautiful future for all children. ¡Adelante!
About the author
Nella, originally from the Rio Grande Valley, is the Chief External Officer for YES Prep Public Schools. Nella joined YES Prep in August of 2004 as a founding teacher at the YES Prep North Central campus where she taught various subjects in the humanities for two years. Nella graduated from Rice University in 2003 with degrees in English, Spanish and Political Science. She received a master’s degree from Sam Houston State University in Education Leadership. Nella currently sits as the Board Chair of Latino Educators Advancing Leadership, a non-profit dedicated to advancing Latino leadership in the charter sector. During her free time she enjoys spending time with her family.