Empowering Latinas Through Service to the Community

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The month of March is deemed National Women’s History Month: a time to remember and appreciate the ways that women have contributed to the history of this country. In recognition of the celebration, we interviewed IBA CEO Vanessa Calderón-Rosado about her experience as a female leader in the field of government.

Why do you think it’s important to have women represented in government?

Vanessa Calderón-Rosado: I think it’s important to have women represented in government, because they bring a different perspective to the work. Research shows that women usually have a more collaborative approach to solving issues, building alliances and coalitions, and finding solutions. I think our government really needs that these days. That’s why it’s so important to have women at the table. Also, I think that in the 21st century, women have demonstrated that they have the type of expertise, talent, experience, knowledge, and background to tackle any job. There are very highly-qualified women out there who can perform all different types of jobs in government, in corporate and the private sector, and in nonprofit organizations.

How has your identity as a Latina woman impacted your role in government and politics?

VCR: I think that being a Latina who has held leadership positions has given me a different, broader understanding of the issues that our community faces. It also has given me the ability to raise the voices of people in our community who have fewer resources and less privilege, but who have integrity and strength. Being Latina and sitting at this table has given me the great opportunity and honor to raise those issues and bring them to the forefront to affect change and to advance the Latino community.

What is a challenge women face in government that you would like to change?

VCR: I think women in general–not only in government but also in the private sector, nonprofit sector, philanthropy, healthcare, and higher education–face pretty much the same challenges. Women are often overlooked for positions despite their qualifications, experience, background, and knowledge. Women are often passed over in promotions or salary increases to favor males–particularly white males. This is a phenomenon that is rooted both in biases–conscious and unconscious–but also in a lack of understanding of the ability, capacity, and talent that women bring to the table. People think that they may not rise to the occasion and perform whatever is expected on that job. And I believe this is not only unfair, but it puts organizations, government, the private sector, and other groups at a disadvantage by not taking full advantage of women’s ability and perspective.

IBA is a predominantly female-led organization. How does female leadership make IBA what it is today?  

VCR: Female leadership at IBA gives us a unique, cutting-edge advantage over so many other nonprofit and community development organizations. IBA is really unique, because for a nonprofit organization and also as an affordable housing developer, you don’t see that kind of composition–especially at the top–of the organizations. These fields are mostly dominated by males, so having women at the helm leading such an important institution–the largest Latino-led nonprofit organization in the Greater Boston Area–is not only an honor, but it has given IBA quite the advantage to climb to the position that we hold today.

How does IBA strive to empower its Latina residents and the Latina community in Boston as a whole?

VCR: The community of Villa Victoria has strong Latina leadership–both at the very grassroots level and also in our Board of Directors. That is very important, because we are not only preaching, but also putting into practice what we say and what we feel is important: to bring Latina leadership to the forefront. I also have a strong commitment to advance Latinas, not only in the community that we serve but also beyond that. I support Latinas who are either running for office, appointed positions, or board positions. I think that the talent out there with Latinas is so big and strong that it’s a disservice not to take advantage of that talent.

You’re a member of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum. What is the most rewarding part of being a part of that organization?

VCR: The most rewarding part is to be with strong female leadership across so many sectors: from higher education to corporate to law to government to nonprofit to healthcare. It is really quite amazing to see the caliber, the expertise, the experience, and the leadership that are all assets of the women that are part of the forum. The one piece that I would like to do–and that I am hoping to help the forum to accomplish is to make it more diverse–is to bring more women of color to the forum in order to continue expanding that great diversity of opinion, leadership, and experience that the forum already has.

Can you name a woman in politics who inspires you? What inspires you about her?

VCR: Hands down, Supreme Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her life story, professional path, distinguished career, leadership, and the responsibility of performing her duties with such wisdom, acumen, and fidelity to this country’s law and constitution is so amazing. She is a true role model for me and for so many Latinas–and other women who are non-Latina women as well. When I had the opportunity to meet her, I found that all I knew about her and had read about her was completely true. She’s someone who is very humble and down-to-earth with a great understanding of community, as well as a commitment to community, public service, equity, and justice. I find those values are so important that her life speaks loudly to me, and that’s why I love her and she is an inspiration.

If you wish to support other Latinx members of the community, be sure to check out La Tierra del OlvidoStephanie Aguayo and Rebekak Vargas will hold an Artist Talk on March 23rd, the closing day of the exhibit. 

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