In the past century, women’s rights have come a long way. However, there is still a long road ahead, especially for women working within the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Today, we’re sharing the stories of two brave Latina women who thrived against all odds in the tech field.
Patria, our Product Management Director, and Jessica, one of our product managers and a member of Patria’s team, have been working in our LA office for a few years. Their stories are filled with unique challenges and valiant showings of grit and resilience. Stories that they kindly shared with us over coffee a few months ago.
Meet Patria: a Dominican New Yorker in love with California
Patria’s immigrant journey began when her father became a political prisoner at the age of 23. After his imprisonment, he moved to New York so he could start over.
New York had been a simple choice for him, given he already had cousins who lived there in Washington Heights. He started his career as a delivery boy for a local deli, bringing lunches to Wall Street executives. In no time, he was promoted and became a cook.
“Back then, migrating wasn’t that complicated. He just walked into a Social Security office, announced he had just moved there from Santo Domingo, and got his social security card,” explained Patria.
Patria’s mother had also moved to New York in search for a better life. She was a single mother and had found it difficult to provide for her kids if she stayed in Dominican Republic. The youngest of a large family and raised in the small town of Ocoa, Patria’s mother had not been able to pursue an education. So, she packed her bags and moved to the United States.
By the time they met and married, Patria’s parents were set on working hard and saving as much money as possible to return to Dominican Republic. Their dream was to gain skills and a good income so they could open their own business back home. Upon returning to Santo Domingo, Patria’s father opened the first Dominican car rental company.
“I still have their bankbook, and you can see how they’d make weekly deposits into their savings account. In 1973, they withdrew all the money and we left for Santo Domingo,” shared Patria.
Although her father felt Dominican Republic was a safer and more peaceful place to raise his daughters, Patria always felt the urge to return to the United States.
“I’m very Dominican, but I loved living in the States and had made up my mind about it. Every summer we’d go to New York to stay with family. It was like my summer camp,” said Patria.
After graduating from college in Santo Domingo, Patria decided to pursue her master’s degree in Boston. Furthering her education was also the only way to get her family’s blessing to immigrate.
Joining the corporate world
She studied Marketing, Communication, and Advertising, but didn’t experience any real culture shock as a student. It was only when she started working that she realized how much American corporate environments differed from Hispanic ones.
“That’s when I felt what my parents must’ve felt when they first came to the States. To grow professionally and reach the point where I am now, it was hard. I didn’t have someone who could guide me and tell me how things are done,” said Patria.
Growing professionally was even more challenging than expected for Patria. Although she studied marketing, she ended up transitioning into the technology field thanks to her product management skills. Not only did she have to work harder because she didn’t have a computer science degree, but also cope with not being taken seriously as an immigrant woman of color in a male-dominated industry.
“You have to work extra hard for people to believe that you have the skills and capabilities to do the job. It’s something I’ve experienced throughout my professional career, needing to give my 200% to prove my worth. To prove that I am as capable and as knowledgeable as any man, and that I can get the job done as well as or even better than them,” shared Patria.
Patria is equally proud and aware of her position as a Latina woman in technology who is tasked with managing engineers. At first, it was challenging to navigate the role, often, her skills were put into question. People couldn’t understand how she had gotten as far as she had. But it became easier when Patria focused on the fact that everything she had achieved had been born out of hard work, experience, learning, and curiosity.
“For me, solving problems fuels my creative side. I haven’t seen it as a roadblock, but I’m always aware that I am a Latina in technology, in a male-dominated industry, and that I have an accent. Every time I go into a room, a meeting, I’m aware of that, and the way I handle things, myself, and situations, even the way I make decisions, I always operate through that lens,” said Patria.
“It’s something I’ve experienced throughout my professional career, needing to give my 200% to prove my worth. To prove that I am as capable and as knowledgeable as any man, and that I can get the job done as well as or even better than them.” — Patria Cabral
Looking back, Patria doesn’t feel like she’s lost a big part of her culture or identity. For her, there were intricate parts about Latin culture that she didn’t subscribe to even before immigrating. While growing up, it was expected for women to fill a role and check of boxes like getting married and having kids, but Patria says she was never like that.
“In the US, there’s always this conversation about being integrated or assimilated. I’m very adaptable and feel like I have assimilated the culture for sure, but at my core I’m still very Dominican. I love the food, the music, the way I talk. I speak a lot of Spanish at work and everyone I talk to know the colloquial terms now because I use them often,” said Patria.
Having adopted the culture of her new home, she can switch comfortably from one culture to the other.
“One thing that is well-known about Dominicans is that we’re very warm and hospitable. I do miss that. I miss that I could just show up at somebody’s house and someone would welcome me in even if my friend wasn’t there. The mom or someone would be there to offer you coffee.”
Meet Jessica: a first-generation college grad
Over 30 years ago, Jessica’s parents emigrated from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Having grown up in an agricultural environment, where farming and selling produce was prioritized, her parents weren’t able to pursue an education full-time.
“My dad was forced to work because his dad passed away at the age of eight. He had to help his mom raise his brothers and sister in whichever way he could. So, he took on different jobs like washing cars and collecting parking money,” shared Jessica.
Eventually, he made his way up, finding better jobs and salaries. But he still felt there was something missing. He had seen how people from the town were emigrating and were then able to send money back to the country. It became clear to them that there were better opportunities out there. In the end, he decided to pack his bags and chase the American Dream.
At a very young age, Jessica had to learn how to translate so she could help out her parents, often not knowing if she was saying the right things.
“My mom went only up to third grade and my dad up to sixth grade. They just learned the basic addition, multiplication, subtraction, some writing and basic reading, but in Spanish,” explained Jessica.
Once in California, her mom went into babysitting and her dad turned to construction work. While her mom would get more customers thanks to word-of-mouth, landing construction jobs was a matter of luck and speed.
“As a jornalero, my dad had to stand in these parking lots where people who needed workers would drive by and say, ‘Oh, who’s looking for a job?’ and everybody would rush to that one person to make money for the day,” shared Jessica.
Even though they’ve been living in California for over three decades, Jessica’s parents are still not fluent in English. In part, this is due to the kindness shown by many employers who tried their best to communicate in Spanish. Overtime, the did pick up words and learned the basics.
“My grandparents didn’t push my parents to study, whereas mine did. They always said I should have a better future because that’s why they had moved here in the first place,” said Jessica.
The math prodigy
Since childhood, Jessica had always known she was good at math. In third grade, Jessica’s teacher had given each student a poster board where they could collect stickers for completing their multiplications. It became apparent to her then that she had collected an insane amount compared to her classmates.
“Math came naturally to me. As I grew older and got to higher math like algebra and calculus, I’d look at a math book and just love how they were steps to each problem. I’d learn them, do my own problem, and get to an answer. It was so satisfying. I didn’t have to read anything,” shared Jessica.
Because her parents didn’t know English, they couldn’t help her with her reading and writing assignments. However, math was a different story.
“Numbers are just another language. You don’t need to know English or Spanish. It’s the universal language, and I really wanted to apply it somewhere that involved thinking about ways to solve things. I like solving problems, that’s my thing. That’s why I went into computer science. The coding part was ok, but I really enjoyed the theoretical classes like linear algebra, which involved some coding but mostly thinking,” said Jessica.
Jessica always knew she wanted to go to college. It had been her parents’ dream for her and something she had worked hard to achieve.
Now, she works directly with engineers in our IT department and enjoys receiving feedback from them.
“If they tell me to do something in a better way, I just take that as a chance to get better. I’m usually very quiet, but it’s because I’m absorbing information and really trying to learn. I’ll be taking notes and grasping everything that’s been said,” she said.
For Jessica, food is what ties her to her culture. This is thanks to the fact that her mom still cooks everything her own mother taught her. Recipes that have been passed down through generations.
“We eat a lot of estofados and moles. One of my favorite dishes, which is jocón, I bring to work at least once a week. It’s green sauce with chicken and rice. Food is definitely what ties us to our culture because we still eat traditional dishes to this day,” shared Jessica.
The family tries to visit Guatemala at least once a year.
“Numbers are just another language. You don’t need to know English or Spanish. It’s the universal language, and I really wanted to apply it somewhere that involved thinking about ways to solve things.” — Jessica Palacios
Whenever she visits, Jessica is moved by experiencing how her cousins’ families eat all three meals together. In comparison, Jessica would rarely see her parents growing up. She’d be enrolled in after school programs so her parents could go to work and was dropped off at 7:00 a.m. even though school started at 8:30.
“I wish I would’ve had my parents around more. Because of their sacrifice, I always had a roof over my head, a plate of food, and clothes to wear. Nothing was ever missing. I had what I needed because my parents worked so hard, but they sacrificed being with me to provide for me,” Jessica shared.
When Patria met Jessica
By the time Patria started working at Ria, she had become a mentor for immigrant women who, like her, were looking to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She realized that her journey would’ve been smoother and less challenging if she would’ve had somebody to show her the ropes. At the same time, she knew she wanted to help minorities, people who came from immigrant families and who had a similar background.
“I always say two things to the girls that I mentor. The first one is that their uniqueness is their asset. The fact that you’re diverse and come from a different culture is your asset. Why? Because you see everything through a different lens. Instead of diminishing that, you have to amplify it and grow it. The second thing is that they belong, and they shouldn’t let anybody tell them otherwise,” said Patria.
“When I was in computer science classes, most of the classes had only like three girls out of the 35 students. The girls and the Hispanics, who were also minorities, would try to stick together. In that group, I made a friend who had been involved in STEM before me. She told me about this program and said I should apply,” shared Jessica.
After submitting her application and being accepted into the program, Jessica was en route to landing her first internship. However, life had an additional challenge in store for her. Before senior year of college, Jessica became pregnant.
“The fact that you’re diverse and come from a different culture is your asset. Why? Because you see everything through a different lens. Instead of diminishing that, you have to amplify it and grow it.” — Patria Cabral
Juggling her pregnancy and the uncertainty and senior year did put some stress on Jessica. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait long to hear from an internship opportunity she could take. The co-founder of the STEM program she had joined got in touch with her about a project management internship opportunity at Ria.
“She forwarded me the job posting, and I read through it. I found there were a lot of bullet points that I was already tackling in my senior design program. I gave it a shot and emailed Patria. She set up an interview, and she asked me some questions over coffee. I was nervous because all of my previous interviews had been over the phone, so this was my first face-to-face, and I straight-up told her I was nervous when I got there,” recalls Jessica.
Jessica landed the internship, which could be extended between 3-6 months based on her performance. We can now tell you her performance was stellar.
“The day before graduation, Patria called me into her office and asked if I wanted to be a full-time employee. That was the best gift. I gave the big news to my family after I graduated. I said, ‘I just wanted to let you guys know that I’m a full-time employee!’ Funny thing is, I had told one of my coworkers I was worried I wasn’t doing well that very morning,” said Jessica.
When it comes to Jessica, Patria has only praises. “She is a really hard worker, and it probably comes from seeing how her parents worked so hard to get to where they are and to give her a better life. The thing I’ve noticed about Jessica is that she takes constructive criticism very well. It just doesn’t faze her. Because she saw the grit and the determination and the struggles that her parents had to face, she understands that for you to get better, there have to be ways in which you grow, and sometimes growing isn’t easy.”
At Ria, we are proud to count with such astounding and hardworking women in our team. People like Patria and Jessica help us grow not only through the professional skills they bring to the table but also through their energy. Their drive and rich experiences enable us to provide the best service to our customer, a service that helps open ways for a better everyday life.