Name: Angélica Reza Wind
Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina
CHCI Program(s)/Year: 2006-2007 Graduate Law Fellow for Public Policy Fellowship / 2007 International Policy Program Fellow
CHCI Program Placement(s): Office of the Honorable Xavier Becerra / Secretería General Iberoamericana
Current Position/Organization: Executive Director, Our VOICE, Inc.
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMERS, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
As a first generation Mexican American of migrant farmworkers, I faced a lot of challenges. I did not grow having a stable home because we moved a lot. The transient lifestyle of migrant farmworkers has a way of impacting access to education. Moreover, I grew up in a household where education was not stressed. If I wanted access to a decent education, it was something I had to fight for. I was the first one in my family to graduate high school, college and law school. This was a big feat for me because my mother has the equivalent of a first grade education and my father the equivalent of a sixth grade education. I did not have anyone to help me with my homework at home or understood the importance of doing my homework. It was a responsibility that I had to take on. In the same manner, I did not have anyone that pushed me to go to college or with the college application process. I did it by myself and while tough at times, I do not regret my experience. It taught me not to take access to education for granted. We live in a country where everyone can have access, at minimum, to a high school education. My parents did not have that choice but I am glad they came to this country because it has allowed me to where I am today.
In addition, growing up as Latina in the South, I faced a lot of racism and prejudice. What I experienced as a child and still do at times, makes me more determined to overcome challenges that have been placed before me. It has only made me stronger and more committed to fighting for equality.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
One of the main reasons I applied to the CHCI Public Policy Fellowship was to be exposed to Latino policy leaders. Growing up in North Carolina during the eighties and nineties, there were not many, if any, Latinos in leadership positions. I felt that CHCI Public Policy would provide me an opportunity to be exposed to Latino policy makers as well as provide the leadership development that I was unable to get up that point. Also, I knew I wanted to work in public policy and felt that CHCI Public Policy Fellowship was an excellent opportunity to get experience in the public policy arena.
The CHCI Programs are important to Latino youth because currently there are no other programs that I am aware of that seeks to engage Latino youth to the degree that the programs do. The programs provide a unique opportunity to gain real world experience with some of the most politically and socially influential individuals and organizations in the nation. During my time with the CHCI Public Policy Fellowships, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from individuals that were shaping our nation and still continue to do so. The experience was invaluable.
Latino youth also get an opportunity to cultivate their leadership skills and styles. The programs help you gain a firm understanding of what leadership is and how to lead effectively. Everyone has the capability of being a leader but few are effective leaders, the CHCI Programs give you the tools to become one.
In addition, through the CHCI Programs Latino youth get to connect and form lasting relationships with other Latino youth leaders. This can be extremely empowering, challenging and inspirational. To this day, I still am in communication with some of Fellows from our program. It is not unusual for me to reach out to a Fellow for advice or to find out what they are doing with their lives. I am constantly awestruck at the great work that the Fellows are doing. From working at the White House to working as a State Senator. This was made possible through the CHCI Programs.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
Since finishing the CHCI programs, I have primarily doing anti-violence work. For the past eight years, I have work in the prevention and response of domestic violence and sexual violence. At first, I was working with the Mountain Violence Prevention Programs of Pisgah Legal Services where I helped immigrant women that were impacted by domestic violence to obtain criminal, civil and immigration remedies. After that, I worked at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence providing technical assistance, facilitating trainings and working on policies impacting immigrant victims of domestic violence.
Currently, I am the Executive Director of Our VOICE, Buncombe County’s Sexual Assault Intervention and Prevention Center. The work is extremely challenging but very rewarding. Every day I get up help to address a topic that is often goes unspoken. My goal is to change the conversation regarding sexual assault. Instead of society asking what the victim did to get victimized, for society to ask what is wrong with that individual that thought that they could cross the line and victimize someone. We got a long way to go but am hopeful that we will get there one day.
One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of is helping the agency to serve Spanish speaking victims of sexual assault. When I came on as the Executive Director, Our VOICE had just hired their first bilingual/bicultural staff person. Since then, I am proud to say that over half of our staff is bilingual/bicultural. In my time, we have created an environment where Spanish speaking victims of sexual assault can safely seek culturally appropriate services in their own language. We have seen the number of Spanish speaking victims grow exponentially within the last two years. I like to think that I played a role in that.
As for my next chapter, I was recently accepted as a Fellow for the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations. I am looking forward to taking part in the fellowship because I feel it complements the skills and development I received at CHCI.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
I believe that CHCI played in fundamental role in my leadership development. I believe that everyone is born with the potential of being a leader. The CHCI helped me define what true leadership is and how to become an effective leader. As a Latina leader in Western North Carolina, I often find myself as the only person of color at the leadership table. This can be very isolating. I feel that my experience at CHCI has allowed me to see how important it is for me to be at that table in order to help bring more leaders of color to it.
The CHCI Public Policy Fellowship taught me that leaders are not effective unless they can influence others. I obtained the tools to becoming an influential leader and that has helped me as I have moved up in leadership positions. I was also taught the importance of cultivating personal and professional relationships in order to affect change. It has allowed me to bring folks from different ideological and political backgrounds together and find common ground. This has been extremely important to me in my non-profit work.
My participation in the CHCI Public Policy Fellowship also has opened doors for me. The program has the reputation of helping to develop courageous and accomplished leaders. Not everyone gets an opportunity to take part in the CHCI Programs, and getting into a program speaks volumes of the individual. I feel that has helped open doors for me.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
I volunteer when I get an opportunity to do so. Now it is a little harder because I have a small child but it is important to me that she learns civic engagement from an early age so I take her with me when appropriate. Recently, with a couple of other colleagues, I developed a radio segment titled “Las Comadres”. The premise of the segment is to have three Latinas from diverse backgrounds to discuss issues impacting Latinos in Western North Carolina. The segment also seeks to educate Latinos regarding their rights, local resources and local events. I also mentor other Latino youth when possible. It is important for me to be a mentor/role model because growing up, I did not have a Latino leader to look up to.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
In 5-10 years, I see myself working in the gender-based violence prevention and response field at the international level with a focus on Latin American countries. It is my belief that everyone has a right to live in a society that is free of violence and I am committed to working to help create such of a society.
In terms of what I still want to achieve, I want to raise an empowered daughter that believes there is nothing in the world she cannot tackle if she sets her mind to it. In addition, I would like to run for the Buncombe County School Board. Education really is the key to any type of upward mobility. North Carolina has seen a tremendous increase of the Latino population within the past twenty years. Currently there is little Latino representation at the school board level. I want to be a voice for Latino students and parents.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
The most important piece of advice I would give to current and future CHCI participants is to make the most of the fellowship. I know it sounds like a cliché but it is a cliché for a reason. The time passes quickly and unless you plan on remaining in D.C., take advantage of your time with the CHCI to make connections and relationships that will help in your next chapter in life. While living in D.C. is fun and exciting, you want to leave the program with strong connections to leaders, not just with memories of hanging out on the Hill. The CHCI programs are a once in a lifetime opportunity, do not waste that opportunity.
Also, take advantage of what CHCI has to offer. During my time at the CHCI, they offered additional leadership development opportunities that Fellows were not required to attend. Take advantages of those opportunities because you may not get them in them in the future.