Growing up I was the type of girl who was always curious. I had endless questions that kept me thinking and interested in just about everything. Teachers assigned classwork, but I wanted to know why it mattered. What was the purpose or significance of the assignment? I remember thinking about why the layout of the classroom was designed as it was. Sometimes I may have asked too many questions. Why? How? Where? When? At times, I remember some of my teachers being annoyed or avoided calling on me. I thought my questions were relevant, but they were quick to stop my questions by telling me that I was straying away from the topic. I am grateful for those few teachers who did nurture my curiosity and allowed me to explore and see things from different perspectives. That same curiosity and persistence has paved the way to the person that I am today. Finding my way wasn't easy, but I was never timid about asking questions and taking on new ventures. I often strived to be better than before, to understand those around me and myself. And in many ways I have succeeded.
During elementary school my curiosity not only inspired me to learn and question everything, it also sparked and nurtured a side of me that I wasn’t aware of, my own spirituality. My academic beginnings introduced me to a blend of traditional education with a Lutheran based spiritual touch. I don’t remember too many people in elementary school, but I do vividly remember Pastor Brady. He was very humble and caring about the community. If there was a problem or some concern with one of the families of the church, he was the first to come by their house to offer guidance toward resolution. What really resonated with me was that he gave a lot of himself to others. Looking back, those experiences allowed me to build a solid spiritual foundation from a very young age. In the classroom, I was doing pretty well and earning high grades. My parents instilled in me the value of hard work and education, especially since they themselves did not have a chance to go far in school.
I think that my inquisitive way of thinking helped me do well in school early on. I wanted to figure things out. My favorite subjects were math, art, and I enjoyed reading and storytelling. However, I remember struggling with finding books that were culturally intriguing or relatable. Where I’m from, people didn't look like or sound like Shakespeare. The historical figures portrayed in textbooks seemed nothing like the people I knew about, their histories, or their significant contributions. I would have appreciated historical figures, heroes, and villains that were diverse and from all walks of life, but the vast majority of textbooks were one-sided. I had to discover relatable authors and stories on my own. One of the first books that I thought was cool was the Outsiders. The book was meant for teens and described what young minds could relate to because it considered changes we all go through as adolescents. At the time those changes seemed difficult, sometimes hidden from others, and provoked important questions about growing up that textbooks didn't seem to leave room for.
"I think that my inquisitive way of thinking helped me do well in school early on. I wanted to figure things out. My favorite subjects were math, art, and I enjoyed reading and storytelling. However, I remember struggling with finding books that were culturally intriguing or relatable. Where I’m from, people didn't look like or sound like Shakespeare".
During middle school and high school, I attended all girls Catholic schools. Academically I was focused and maintained high standing grades. As a result, teachers began noticing my potential and recommended taking on AP courses. I could see the difference with AP courses, but I took on the challenge because I liked learning and made sure to set time aside to complete assignments. I was also very athletic I enjoyed playing volleyball, basketball and was part of the softball team. I was a home run hitter! I was very outgoing, outspoken and had many friends. I was never the type of person who hung around with a particular group. Having many friends was an advantage because it meant that we could all ask each other for help with difficult assignments. It became a matter of finding the right person to answer any questions I had about homework or class assignments that were confusing. I was never a troublemaker; however, some of my teachers would have probably described me as someone who liked to chitchat in class too often.
One particular teacher stands out, not only because she called me out in front of my class for chitchatting, but also because she told me that I was not likely to succeed in life. That day I was reaching over to talk to my friend about an assignment. My friends joined in the conversation. Suddenly our teacher asked me to step outside of the classroom. My friends followed one by one as she asked them to step outside for being disruptive. She rushed right behind us with an angry look on her face. Then she scolded us by telling us that we would never graduate if we kept up with such behavior. She looked at me directly and told me that I was likely to end up pregnant. I will never forget that moment. I nodded my head and thought, how can she be so mean to us and say such things to put me down. I felt so disrespected and angry. I felt like telling her off, reminding her how well I was doing in all my other classes, and that she was making very unnecessary and offensive assumptions about our futures. None of us responded because we thought we would only make things worse. I couldn’t graduate fast enough to prove this particular teacher wrong. As I began the college application process, I knew I would deliberately come back one day once I was a college graduate to demonstrate beyond doubt that her words were seriously mistaken.
I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't know how I would get there. As the youngest of six children I was eager to be the first in my family to graduate from college. For that reason my parents seemed to work extra hard to make sure that I was doing well in school. It was my academic counselor Ms. Luz Modesto who introduced me to different majors and helped me with the college application process. She took the time to meet with my parents and I to fill out the FAFSA application. The questions on the application seemed a bit intimidating when I saw them on my own, but Ms. Modesto made everything much easier because she broke down sections and questions. I was able to navigate the college application process because of her direction and desire to see me succeed. I will always be grateful for all she did for us. I was determined more than ever to work hard to do what was necessary to get into college and do well.
"I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn't know how I would get there. As the youngest of six children I was eager to be the first in my family to graduate from college. For that reason my parents seemed to work extra hard to make sure that I was doing well in school."
High school gradation was great! I remember taking pictures with my parents and friends. I was happy that all my hard work paid off. I was on my way to a university, but which one? I had options, but made the decision to attend Woodbury University to major in Architecture. I was beyond thrilled when I was accepted into the school and couldn’t wait to embark on this new venture. During high school I’d taken great interest in architecture, I often looked up at tall buildings and wondered how they were designed and built. I liked exploring new neighborhoods just to see new homes, structures, and layouts as I did in the classroom early on. It seemed as if that curious side of me never left me and only pushed me forward. So much happened during my first year at Woodbury, I decided that it was time to move out from my parents home. What would life be like if I lived out of their home? I was still curious about everything. After a year of commuting back and forth I felt that it was time to move on campus to experience campus life. The idea of living on campus was exciting to me, but my parents saw it as scary and had a hard time letting me go. I knew the only way to discover myself would be by becoming more independent and immersing myself in the full college experience. The need to see new things, meet new people, and learn from all of those experiences was ever present. I finally convinced them by providing much reassurance about being extremely careful and checking in with them. I was more than ready to move out and needed to refocus on academics.
During that first semester, I discovered that although I had a love for architecture it was just not for me. The logistics behind creating models simply didn’t catch my attention. I still had a deep interest for the field, but taking different classes helped me refine how I saw my future in the professional world. I decided to switch majors and chose to pursue a B.A. in Fine Arts with a design background. I was finally where I belonged and fit right into the program. In between class lectures, assignments and projects I managed to maintain good grades. I also managed to work on campus as a peer advisor and teacher assistant where I taught an orientation class for new students. I enjoyed teaching that class because we talked about building leadership skills and what to expect from college as new incoming students. During college I rarely struggled with my courses because I was the type of person to do my work and prepare for exams. Studying was just part of the academic lifestyle. Even then, there was always the pressure to complete assignments, which was tough sometimes because I had a lot going on. I still made time to socialize and hangout with my friends, which was another fun aspect of university life. I still remember having a hard time completing a deadline for one particular project that involved fashion and architecture. We had to design a full collection of projects for an upcoming show, and coordinate everything under tight deadlines. I was so stressed and had very little sleep, but as always I pulled through and even won an award for my collection. The show we developed was a great example of work, fun, learning, and gaining hands-on experience.
"I still had a deep interest for the field, but taking different classes helped me refine how I saw my future in the professional world."
After four years I finally graduated and received a B.A. in Fine Arts. The studio and creative components of the program nurtured my curious side. Graduation was another big family affair, we all gathered to celebrate with a big party. My family was proud, especially Mom because she understood how hard of a journey it was for me to accomplish my academic goals. I still cherish the many times my Mother spent with me when visiting me on campus. Every time she came by we caught up, had lunch, and walked around to see the beautiful campus. I think that her visits were her way of supporting my pursuit toward higher education. Graduating was not the end, but just the beginning of a new venture. I still had to think about my future in the career world. After graduation, and as I brainstormed my future, a good friend of mine approached me with the idea of collaborating together to start a design company. I embraced the idea. The hard work began along with long hours to create a design firm from the bottom up. It was a creative space where we developed projects that involved fashion, graphic design and photography. Developing the business was new to us and we were learning along the way. Then it clicked - learning along the way also meant understanding how to run a business, which was not my area of expertise. So after two years of working in the firm I realized two things. First, a simple idea struck me about the potential of running my own business someday. My friend was experiencing success and I saw myself creating something of my own. Secondly, I realized that I needed to learn more about business if I was going to develop a successful and thriving business. My conclusion was that I needed to return to Woodbury to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).
My experience in grad school was different. This time around I felt that some courses were challenging. For example, accounting required spending extra, extra hours studying in the library. I also had to go to tutoring sessions and ask my professors for help. I normally didn't use such strategies, but it was the only way to do well with tough classes. I knew I had to put in the work if I wanted to excel academically. During my MBA I also managed to work full-time as an academic advisor. Due to the previous teaching experiences as an undergrad, I was able to quickly move up to become a Coordinator of Student Life. I enjoyed working as a coordinator because I was able to teach students coping and learning strategies, and important perspectives they could use both inside or outside of the classroom. I was also able to bring in a social justice element that the campus seemed to lack. I found my work rewarding because many students didn't know about simple learning strategies that made a huge difference academically. They often also missed the many campus programs that help students progress academically such as writing centers and the campus life that helps them adapt socially.
"My experience in grad school was different. This time around I felt that some courses were challenging. For example, accounting required spending extra, extra hours studying in the library. I also had to go to tutoring sessions and ask my professors for help. I normally didn't use such strategies, but it was the only way to do well with tough classes."
I was happy to introduce students to different ways that made higher education meaningful and enjoyable. Sometimes I asked students to imagine that the table in front of them is a space that represents all the knowledge in the universe. I ask them to illustrate on the table how much knowledge they know. Some use their hands to form a large circle on the table. Others can’t make the circle large enough to emphasize their knowledge base. Some students seem to miss the idea and fact that we know so little and that there is always something new and valuable to learn. The point is to encourage them to become aware of the idea that there is much knowledge that we do know, but far more knowledge that we are yet to discover. What we don't know is so immense, and actually important. It’s actually humbling to think that way because thinking in such a way allows us to always seek new knowledge. Those who understand this are very likely to actively explore and learn new things because they understand that there is always more to learn. On one particular occasion a student took out a small piece of led out of his mechanical pencil and placed it on the table. Is this how much we know, he asked? I said yes, and thought to myself, he got the message. Others mark the table with a very small dot and describe the dot to represent what we know. They also get the big idea.
There are endless lessons that can help students move forward in their academic or personal goals, but being curious and asking questions are at the very top. Remaining curious requires that we don't let our ego get in the way. Sometimes we live and act based on what we do know, but miss or ignore what we don't know. Students that are curious always want to know more and learn more because they understand the notion that there is always something new and valuable to absorb. Asking questions is about not being fearful and about asking for help. Students may avoid asking questions because of fear of judgment. Such fears are definitely understandable, but it is far more important to consider what we think, need, or want rather than what other people think. Usually asking for help allows students to connect with other like-minded individuals that have the same questions or that are willing to provide guidance. And after all, students can only experience success with the help of many others.
After three years of hard work and dedication I graduated with a MBA from Woodbury University. I had to balance, family, friends, tough times, good times, academics, and work. It may sound hard, but it was definitely doable and most definitely worth it. Graduation was another family affair that brings back great memories. I can say that graduate school was enjoyable because I was able to connect my studies to my interests. And even though I didn’t know exactly what my next venture would be I knew it would involve running my own business. Developing my next venture was only a matter of time. I started playing with the idea of starting a small business in my own community. Looking back I realize the idea stemmed from my curiosity and a project I worked on during my undergraduate program.
The project required that we build a business from the bottom up. We created a space with the idea that anyone who wanted to make their home or business sustainable could consult with us to get the answers they needed to make it happen. We also incorporated an art gallery out of repurposed material and products to add a creative design element. The project was called Verde, which means green. It left a lasting impression that fueled my passion of one day creating my own business. Then I took a look at my life style. What is important to the way I live? What is important to the world? What is important to people looking to live well? I realized that living well was about being mindful, education, yoga, and spirituality. Those elements all amounted to living healthy. “Todo Verde” was born. It translates into “all green”. The idea behind Todo Verde was to create awareness of healthier options for the people in the community. I also figured that I needed a practical element of health that would attract everyone in the neighborhood. The idea further developed into specializing in organic plant based smoothies, juices, and agua fresca. The goal was to engage the community on topics that involve nutrition and health. My lifestyle already aligned perfectly with my new venture, but I dove even deeper into understanding healthy foods and living.
I specifically wanted to become a part of farmers markets because they are about supporting small mom and pop business, and because their overall message was about providing locally grown, fresh foods that keep people healthy. These foods are at their peak of nutrients. I started off with booths at farmers markets, but have grown to workshops, pop-up shops, and many community events. What I enjoy most are the stories and conversations with people. I can almost hear their mindsets shift, as they talk about healthy living and make better choices about what they put into their body. Interactions with people and during neighborhood events pushed me to want to open a permanent location so that I can better serve the community. After an exhausting search I have recently found a permanent space to open a storefront for Todo Verde. Surrounding myself with good people and figuring our small details along the way has also helped tremendously. For example, I didn't know that I would need four sinks in one kitchen.
Today I am the founder of Todo Verde, a vegan cook, yoga instructor, and advocate for healthy food access in East Los Angeles and for communities beyond. Dreams do come true – with much persistence and hard work. Getting to this point has not been easy, but my MBA and previous education definitely played a key role in helping me start, run, and own a business along aside wonderful people. My parents also played a key role because of the values and inspiration they instilled in me through the years. They have believed in me since day one. I look forward to experiencing this new venture with Todo Verde. I have always strived to live a healthy lifestyle, but sharing this way of life with others feels great because more people are learning to incorporate healthy eating at the shop and their own kitchens. I continue to push myself forward with the support of family, friends, and community members that care about healthy eating and sustainability. Till this day I remain curious and find myself asking questions, traveling, and learning about life.