By JEFF CLEMETSON | Mission Times Courier
“My journey was not easy,” says San Carlos resident Rosa Hernandez.
At the age of 17, she became gravely ill and hospitalized, not knowing the symptoms of diabetes. No one in her family history had experienced the disease. For the first time in her life, she had to learn how to check glucose levels, pay attention to diet and adapt in order to survive.
And while the experience was difficult to navigate, “it crystallized an uncharted path for me,” she said. “I started living my life with more meaning, starting by educating those around me on diabetes.”
Hernandez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who emigrated to San Diego and the first of five siblings to pursue higher education, with degrees in Psychology and Chicano Studies from San Diego State University.
While attending SDSU, she helped found Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. (LTA) — the first Latina sorority in the history of the U.S. LTA is now 14 years old, has a 100% graduation rate and has been ranked as SDSU’s organization with the highest GPA. Just recently, it won National Chapter of the Year.
As a national board liaison for LTA, Hernandez helped expand the program to other schools, including UCLA, USC, UC Berkley, SFSU, Cal Poly SLO, UC Santa Barbara. In her tenure, she helped 89 women become founding members of their respective chapters.
“It is this work that sparked a fire in me to advocate for other Latinas to reach their goals, which is precisely what I do in my role as Director of Development and Member Services at MANA de San Diego,” she said.
In August, Hernandez was named a finalist in the Coors Light Líderes of the Year competition.
“Through our program, we have the opportunity to create awareness about 12 outstanding Latino leaders who are inspiring others and making a difference to champion leadership in communities across the country,” said Alberto Senior, who leads MillerCoors’ national Latino community efforts. “For more than a decade, the Líderes program has recognized the unique accomplishments of over 170 leaders, and I am excited about awarding the 2019 Líder of the Year with a $25,000 grant that will help the Latino community climb on even higher.”
The winner of the award will be announced during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.
Mission Times Courier recently caught up Hernandez to talk about MANA, it’s work and her role in making a difference for San Diego Latinas.
What is MANA? What does it do? How did you become involved with MANA? What do you do there?
MANA de San Diego is a nonprofit organization that empowers Latinas through education, leadership development, community service and advocacy.
The organization started in 1986 when five insightful local Latinas recognized the significant need for a unifying force – a strong Latina voice advocating for a greater presence and a deeper involvement in educational, economic, political and social arenas. These women created a unifying force and voice by establishing the San Diego chapter of MANA.
I currently serve as the Director of Development and Member Services at MANA de San Diego. In my role, I’ve been able to help the organization double its budget in under three years. I have also spearheaded MANA de San Diego’s partnership with SDSU’s LTA chapter to host a biannual leadership conference for more than 500 Latinas.
Given today’s political climate, how important is it to empower the Lantinx community? Any local examples through your work that exemplify that need and how MANA addresses it?
I have always found my purpose in going the extra mile to help ensure others get closer to achieving their dreams. Now more than ever, I believe that empowering one woman at a time can strengthen our communities.
Over the years, MANA de San Diego has been a leading voice for the Latinx community during times of need. Most recently, I was able to speak at a local vigil in response to the El Paso shooting — standing up to hate and racist rhetoric.
That experience taught us that, as an organization, our members wanted to continue the conversation in a meaningful way. So, in response, we made the focus of our latest networking breakfast a panel with immigration and civil rights leaders. Our esteemed panelists shared ways for MANA de San Diego members to create change in their neighborhoods.
We aim to provide a welcoming and united front for San Diego’s Latinx community today and for years to come.
Is there a final message you’d like to leave our readers with?
I am steadfast in the belief that empowering one woman at a time can empower communities in truly powerful ways. Even if you come from humble beginnings, you have the power to make larger-than-life impact in the communities you belong to. Échale ganas! (Do it with passion!).
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.