Latina Career Women Defy Cultural Norms


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Gladys Rivera at work at the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority in Rocky Hill. (Photo by Linda Tishler Levinson)
By Linda Levinson
As a woman, Aura Alvarado, of Windsor, Conn., has experienced first hand that finding the right balance between her career and home life can be a challenge. But as a Latina, the challenge is even greater, she said.
Traditional family expectations that women should stay at home with their children and the potential sense of guilt from spending time away from her family are pressures that directly compete with Alvarado’s career as the director of communications and community relations for the Capital Region Education Council.
As a divorced mother of two boys, ages 13 and 14, she said she started out doing things in the traditional way.
“I did what I was supposed to,” she said, but still, she felt something was missing in her life. She went back to school when her youngest son was four months old, and earned her degree at Albertus Magnus College.
By furthering her education, Alvarado said she was able to pursue a successful career path, in part thanks to the support from her family.
Even though Alvarado is grateful for the mentors from her own life, she said that she wishes there were more Latina role models for career women.
“I think my pressures came from my family side,” Alvarado said. “It’s that guilt that’s constantly on my mind.”
Her mother had always worked when she was a child, she explained, but had worked nights so that she could be home with the children.
Alvarado, on the other hand, works during the day in a demanding position. She manages a staff of six who are in charge of internal and external marketing for the agency.
On top of undergoing rebranding at CREC, she handles media announcements and annual reports for the agency.”I’m never bored, because I’m always doing something different,” she said.
Alvarado also credited the agency she works for in making it easier to maintain a work-life balance. They are very flexible, she said, and she is lucky to have an executive director who stresses that family comes first. Depending on the circumstances, she said she puts in extra hours at the office when necessary, but can take the time off when she needs to tend to a sick child or leave early for an appointment at school.
She added that part of the balance for her is volunteering, as she has served and supported many committees and  events.
“I feel this is an important balance, because you need to give back to continue receiving blessings at home,” she said.
Gladys Rivera, the senior manager of marketing and outreach for the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority in Rocky Hill, Conn., said that while balancing her home life with a career that involves long hours and travel is difficult, she believes her daughter has benefited from her example.
“I think the balance that I brought helped her be independent,” she said. “She’s an extremely well-mannered, educated, independent young lady.”
While her daughter is now 22, has a job and attends college in New York, Rivera said the support from her family has made it possible to balance both her career and family responsibilities.
Not only has Rivera struck a balance between her professional goals and family life, she has been an active member in the community as well, serving on the board of Hartford’s Puerto Rican parade for more than 25 years.
“I’ve had a lot of support from my mom,” she said, adding that her daughter’s father also was actively involved in her life.
Making up time lost during the week on the weekends has also helped her remain keyed in and present at home. When she was able, she would also bring her daughter along during business trips.
Her job has been a source of support when it comes to fulfilling her dual role as professional and family woman, she added. “We have some great flex time programs in place,” Rivera said.
“You have to balance making the money with taking care of the child. We have an extremely close relationship, so I must have done something right.”
Even for Latinas without children to raise,  balancing their career with life outside of work is often a challenge.
Carolina Bartolleto, a college access coordinator for Connecticut Students for a Dream, said she works with undocumented immigrants like herself who are applying for legal status under the Dream Act and helps them get an education. At times, she said, her job can become all-consuming.
“It can be very challenging,” she said, “You never come off the clock.”
Her dedication to her work seems to defy the cultural expectations within her family, she said, adding that her parents often tell her that she should be home more. Bartolleto also said her family has certain cultural expectations for Latinas that include more focus on the home and family, rather on their careers.
“I do get the feeling they would like me to be more involved in the family than I am,” she said.
The women’s feelings of obligation were shown to be typical of many Latinas, according to a 2012 study of Latina school principals. Veronica Chavez, of the University of Southern California, wrote in her study “Si Se Puede: How Latina Principals Successfully Balance Work and Family Life,” that many Latina participants had been taught that family duties superceded career aspirations.
“As Latinas, the participants were taught that it was their duty to stay home and take care of household responsibilities, including child-rearing obligations,” the study reported.
She also wrote that Latinos were less likely to help out with domestic duties, and thus “reinforcing the stereotypical roles attached to women” by leaving the jobs for Latinas.