LATINA HERSTORY: THE UNTOLD STORIES OF LATINAS IN EDUCATION
Talia Rodriguez is a bi-racial, bi-cultural, and bi-lingual Latina from Buffalo. Ms. Rodriguez’s mission is to write about Latina’s, who have shaped the face of our city and our region. It is Ms. Rodriguez’s believes that our own people should inspire us and in telling our collective stories, we push our community forward. Ms. Rodriguez is a community advocate and the facilitator of a hyper local consortium. She is a 5th generation West Sider, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo Law School, and an avid baseball fan. She lives on the West Side with her young son A.J.. Ms. Rodriguez sits on the board of several organizations including the Belle Center, where she attended daycare. Ms. Rodriguez loves art, music, food, and her neighbors. Writing for the Buffalo Latino Village is another extension of her professional journey.
MEET ICHIERY RIVERA
Latina Herstory Education:
When I was growing up, we were poor, but we were rich in human capital. What do I mean by human capital? Well, according to Investpedia, human capital can be classified as the economic value of a person’s experience. This includes assets like education, training, intelligence, skills, health, and other things employers value such as loyalty and punctuality. The people who raised me did not have much formal education but boy, did they have high human capital. They were bright and had skills that life taught them rather than a textbook.
They had lessons to teach and I absorbed them. And in those rare moments when I was “out of the house” and alone to decide what kind of person I was- I thought of those lessons. What I learned literally helped me survive urban poverty and the side effects of being Puerto Rican and under resourced – if you know what I mean. It took a village for me- comprised mostly of my cousins and father’s six brothers and sisters. Sprinkle some neighbors on top, between my porch and the corner store, that was my entire life. But that foundation bred resilience in me and in countless other children.
Your family builds the first wall for your village. Your community builds the outer wall for your village and if you are lucky, people like Ms. Ichiery Rivera of Say Yes Buffalo adds to the journey. People like her are bridge builders. Those who connect our children to resources within the school setting, that are designed to change the trajectory of a life. Impossible to leave out, advocates like Ms. Rivera are an essential part of urban education.
Ms. Rivera has a laugh that resonates down the halls of even the busiest high school hallway- I have had the privilege of hearing it myself. Her mission to fight for every student. Her advocacy is an ode to her father whose commitment to community was well known to Puerto Ricans in Rochester, New York — her hometown. Her vibrant energy and storytelling connect people. Ms. Rivera shows up for work highly present, motivated, and authentic; leading by example and rising early in the morning while texting students to get ready for the day.
Ms. Rivera of Say Yes Buffalo has motivated and comforted students on their toughest days and hugged them as they sailed across the stage on graduation days.
Interview with ICHIERY RIVERA
In this interview, she will tell us why she has dedicated her energies to children and what her journey through education has taught her:
1. What motivated you to work with youth?
I have always been motivated since a young age to work with youth. My mom had an in-home day care when I was very little. So, my 1st job I was like 5 and it was my responsibility to fan the babies when they would cry. I would get paid 50 cents. Lol After that I was hooked and absolute the joy in taking care of another little human. I spent the rest of my childhood growing my experience in the field so that I could pinpoint what I wanted to do in the future. I babysat, worked in day cares, summer programs, etc.
2. What was your experience like as a student?
As a student I struggled academically often. Math was my enemy, spelling was a villain, and grammar was the devil himself. And attending catholic school my whole life- I was sure I knew what the devil was. In high school science creeped tear, the rest of my academic confidence down. After struggling in math 1 and science 1 realized my hopes of being NICU nurse was never going to happen. So, like Elsa I let it go. I was always very adamant that I did not want to teach. I did not want to be a social worker either. I knew him I wanted to encourage and support youth through the ups and downs of life.
The beginning of my life I often describe as straight out of a sitcom. 2 parents who fell in love in High School. Got married at 19 and left PR to Rochester NY. They busted their butt working to get everything that they had. They built a family out of pure love. That love was the foundation of that family and life they created. My Father went from a 19-year-old newly wed to a man with 2 kids, a public investigator with the public defender’s office and a big social activist in the Latino community. Which in turn lead me on a path to be conscious of social justice issues and added to another layer of youth activism to my path.
But at the age of 13 my foundation was shaking to the core. My Father my rock my everything the light of our community died. Like any sitcom story there was a shift in the whole dynamic of the show and a main character left behind. My life it changed although our life was never extravagant it was stable. It’s hard to feel stable when half of your heart is missing.
3. Did you like school/learning?
As I said before I struggled in school. It was later discovered that I could have benefited from ESL education, but it was not offered at any of my schools. Do to speaking two languages and the way my brain processed everything. I was unable to be a strong speller in any language but being bilingual allowed me to be able use my decoding skills and have a high level of reading comprehension. Once I figured that being bilingual made me stronger in other areas during my junior year of high school. I was able to figure out my learning style and be a much more successful student. So, when I hit college, I LOVED school. Let alone going to school for Child and Youth services studying a topic I was passionate about made it a great experience It was also the 1st I left home. Leaving Rochester and going to school at Medaille College gave me an opportunity breath, leave behind the shadow of my father’s death. I was able to see the world through a new lens a brighter one at that.
4. How did your experience as a student form your leadership style as a youth advocate?
Hugely I went to a very prestigious private school from 7-12grade. I was one of 3 Latinas in my graduating class of 110 students. There was no other student/teacher or even admin who understood me and all that came with me and my identity. Being Latina growing up in the hood, I was raised in a single parent home based out of tragedy. My mother was very strong, but I lost my father, who much of our community knew and loved, at a young age. I was impacted tremendously because of my father’s death. Loosing him motivated me to want to be a person that students could relate too and count on. I hoped that they could respect me and know that I would support them from a very nurturing, genuine, and sincere place. The crazy part after working with students, is when it hit me, how much I was lacking in my high school experience. I was lacking support and someone to relate to. As a young person It’s really hard to find yourself when you don’t have people encouraging you and you have no role models who have achieved the goal that you dream of. I am fortunate that my family felt that if I wanted something it was their job to help create a way for me to achieve it. So, I made it to where I am now, understanding that if you want something YOU have to do the work. YOU have to want it. YOU have to push yourself. But in the end, it’s on you.
5, When did you start your work in the education field and what was your role?
I worked in high school in a day care as a floater. My mother worked in the daycare too so I would go after school and work during school breaks. I loved it and just continued to solidify the gift I had been given to able to connect with children.
6. What was your favorite/most informative role?
My most Informative role was when I was the ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS of a chain of day care centers. I accomplished so many things I never would ever have imagined. From working with one of my closest friends and teaming up to turn a gym into a day care, a bar into a day care and an ex technical school into a day care was mind blowing. But it was so gratifying to help build something from the ground up and make spaces for families and their children. But my favorite is my current role at Say Yes Buffalo as the Near Peer Mentoring supervisor. 1st the organization is a place like I have never worked before. The level of mutual respect that everyone has for each other is mind blowing. The passion, which each of us carry into our positions, to support and encourage students- from birth to beyond college is transformative. I get to fulfill my wish to be a part of a full support system that serves thousands of students. But at Say Yes Buffalo -the fact that I can honestly say the work that I do, I do not do it alone. Because so many of my colleagues carry that same desire and wish every day into work and its humbling. I feel like my personal values are aligned with my roles at Say Yes Buffalo and that makes “work” not feel like “work”. Being able to support to students and connecting them with individual’s who also want to connect, being able to create relationships and support them is more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. I am so blessed.
7. What advice do you have for educators today?
The biggest thing I tell anyone who works with youth in any capacity is to be genuine. I tell my mentors and mentees I work with: “I don’t do Fake”, and I do not want to see it in this program. Just because you cannot relate to someone’s experience does not mean you cannot be supportive. I say that because in my own educational experience I was surrounded by people who could not relate, but still tried. Their effort meant more to me than anything. Those efforts gave me hope in humanity. I also tell Mentees and Mentors- if you can relate to a situation then share your story. We often hide in our own progress and forget what got us to the point of success. The fact that we made it and that we do have a story to share, is what will inspire the next generation to go even further than us.
8. What is your theory on human potential?
Everyone has the capability to tap into their own potential just must do the work. There is a lot of self-reflection involved in that. You must be willing to grow as a person even when it hurts, and it is uncomfortable to move forward. There so much that youth today face, so many obstacles and trauma even. But you must deal with those things to move forward. If you do not, they will creep up. Later and get in the way of you reaching your goals.
9. What is the single most important value/thing to keep in mind when working with students?
That if you want to create an environment, where kids can learn and grow, then you as a person have to wake up every day and try your best, to create a world that can reciprocate that to them. There are certain things that each generation has continued to repeat and if we do not continue to break cycles and make strides for our communities, we have no business putting expectations on our youth. In the end when working with youth you must realize it all starts with you. You must value and appreciate the opportunity you have been given to make a life lasting impression on a child life. Make It Count!
10. What is the most important thing a student taught you?
That I am enough. My work, my students have provided me with so much self-worth and fulfillment. That they have given me and my life so much more meaning. I could not imagine my life without them.
ICHIERY RIVERA, Educator
MEET WILDA RAMOS
December 2020 Issue
Latina Herstory Education:
The reason I chose to do my work in education is, because as a child, I was caught between two languages. I knew I was smart but would spend the better part of my early life trying to figure out how to express that fact. Public school did not know what to do with me- indicating to my parents at one time that my difficulty in expressing myself and slow reading meant I was “behind”. Not a new problem though, a girl who speaks two languages but who sometimes, will not speak at all.
Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers were English as second language students, one speaking Sicilian at home and the other Spanish. Buffalo Public Schools educated my maternal grandmother, a bi-lingual first generation Sicilian American, in the 1930’s. She a Sicilian speaking child, I am sure knowing the great pause that comes about you – when your picking between two languages. Though we never talked about it. Dual language a theme in my heritage and academic interests. When I started my professional journey inside Buffalo Public Schools, I looked for people. People, who knew that kids like me, were smart and we were worth fighting for. Then I met Wilda Ramos. She was just what I was looking for and that’s why her story is our first LatinaHerstory. Wilda’s interview documents her distinct Latina educational leadership inside a system with a rich history of supporting bi-lingual and multilingual children, in her voice.
Wilda Ramos, Language Assessment Coordinator — Buffalo Public Schools
What motivated you to become an educator?
I had good educators that inspired me to become an educator and believe that I was going to be successful in life, starting with my parents, who inspired me to get educated and to contribute to society. As an adult, when I moved to Buffalo, all my friends were educators. As I was working at the University at Buffalo as a Spanish speaking clerk typist, my supervisor at the time, Dr. Lillian Malavé asked me to help with registration committee at the New York State Association for Bilingual Education (NYSABE) Conference (I have attended the NYSABE conference since then). At that conference, I was able to experience the educational environment and what educators do to become better teachers and leaders. Participants worked together to discuss new practices, policies, and different strategies to teach English language learners how to maintain and value their first language and also learn English. This motivated me to become an educator.
What was your experience like as a student?
Education was a priority at my household growing up. We were nine siblings and eight of us achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher education. I moved to Buffalo, NY when I was 21 years old from Puerto Rico, I already had a 9-month old baby. I had completed an Associate Degree in Secretarial Sciences from the InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico, but did not speak or understand English at an academic/professional level, for that reason, I couldn’t work outside the house. I was not able to communicate with people that spoke only English, for that reason, I decided to go back to college. I attended Erie Community College for the purpose of learning English, but decided to continue my studies at the University at Buffalo shortly thereafter. I finished my Bachelor’s Degree in Arts. After that, I received a scholarship based on academic achievement that covered for my tuition, fees and books, which included a monthly stipend of $400 to finished my Masters in Elementary Education with a minor in Bilingual Education. I was able to experience learning English as second language and went through the same experiences that students go through when they enter US schools without the English language base (supposedly) in mainstream US households.
Did you like school/learning?
I loved going to school and learning new things. I also enjoyed the social part of being in school.
How did your educational experience form your own educational leadership?
I was fortunate to have great leaders in my life starting with my mother and my father. My parents were my first educators. They taught me responsibility, love for learning and perseverance. The experience as a graduate student at the University at Buffalo, and leaders like Dr. Lillian Malavé and other leaders from the New York State Association for Bilingual Education paved my way to be an educational leader. I have been a member of NYSABE since 1989 and was elected to the Delegate Assembly and the Executive Board. In 2007-2008, I became the New York State President of the organization. All these experiences have helped me develop educational leadership.
When did you enter public education, what was the year, what was the role?
I attended public education all my life from Kindergarten to grade 12. I was a clerk typist from 1989 to 1995 -first at the University at Buffalo for a year and after that I worked as a clerk typist with the Buffalo Public Schools. In 1996, I started working as a teacher. I worked as a support teacher for 11 years and worked as a Language Assessment Coordinator during Summers since 2004 and full time since 2015 until now.
What was your last role?
Language Assessment Coordinator
What was your favorite/most informative role?
Each one of my roles has had an impact in my life. My favorite was being a teacher because of the impact you can have in students. My most informative role is the one I’m doing now as a Language Assessment Coordinator. I’m able to assess students to help determine the best educational programs for them. Also I give orientations to parents about the different programs the Buffalo Public Schools offer and provide information pertaining to their rights as parents so they can make informed educational decisions for their child.
What advice do you have to educators facing the challenges they have today?
Do not give up! We are living very difficult times and it is very challenging to teach/learn remotely, but you still have a lot of influence on your students and they will appreciate your efforts later on in life.
What is your theory on human potential?
My theory on human potential is that each child has potential and it is our job as teachers to help that potential flourish.
What is the single most important value/thing to keep in mind while working for children?
Teachers can make or break students. We can make them believe that they can succeed or we can break them by telling them that they have no potential or cannot succeed in life. Make a positive impact in your student’s life. Have empathy and love your students; children can tell if you are sincere. Show the love you have for your students and your profession.
Wilda Ramos is a resident of Buffalo, NY. This is her 30th year with the Buffalo Public Schools. She has three adult children – ages 34, 32 and 21 who are all bilingual, bi-literate and bi-cultural. She may be reached at email@example.com and/or at 716-422-0097.
TALIA’S VIDEO CORNER: Wilda Ramos’ interview documents her distinct Latina educational leadership, inside a system with a rich history of supporting bi-lingual and multilingual children, in her own voice.
Watch Interview with Wilda Ramos: December 2020