Think of this as a bio-CV. I write this to give my audience a better understanding of my unique life experiences from working as an English teacher at age thirteen, to fighting for indigenous rights in Chiapas to managing a major arts & crafts festival in Austin. In all situations I have used my intuition to guide me to success. Because of my uncommon journey, I have gained an entire palette of experience from which I draw when working on any endeavor in my current life, including creating a system of support for agents of change (see Projects below).
Work in Mexico
I began taking care of my nieces and nephews when I was twelve years old. Then at age thirteen, I got a job as an English teacher (ESL) in an upscale neighborhood in Monterrey, Mexico. I did this for a couple of years before I had to quit the job and again become the official “stay-at-home mom” for the children until it was time for us to move to the United States (when the cult officially came to an end).
Work in the US
Upon arriving to the US (age 17), I began working at the family appliance repair business in San Marcos, TX. I answered phones, organized the shop, kept inventory, ordered parts, and scheduled service appointments. I did this for approximately three years, after which I moved to Phoenix, AZ to join my sibling in college.
Because my legal status was not settled (I am an American citizen from birth, but it was not known at the time), I was not able to formally attend college, nor was I able to work. I did, however, work at odd jobs that paid cash and was thus able to support myself. Besides attempting to pay my bills with under-the-table work, I also began experiencing the effects of PTSD, culture shock and depression. At this point in my life, there was no understanding of the support I needed nor was there a single person that took interest in my wellbeing. I was twenty-two and struggling to continue to work when I broke and had a do-or-die moment – I entered a men’s club and started work as a dancer.
This was traumatic in itself because of my extremist religious upbringing, but I knew no other way out. With the cash I earned, I was not only able to pay my bills, but also began taking private music lessons. I had come to fall in love with music at the time, and dedicated myself completely to it. It was in this time that I found my love for social change as well. In addition to this, I began questioning my religious upbringing and searching for answers for the numerous questions I had. Eventually, I had enough with my life in the US and decided that I would go back to Mexico to “help it become free”. I was revolutionary minded through and through.
I lived in a rebel camp in the jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. Although it was an active war zone (nearby camps were raided and houses set on fire), I was not afraid. I was committed to the work no matter what it took. (This was my normal, in fact; I had grown up in a war zone of sorts due to the cult violence.) While in the jungle, I listened to the stories of the indigenous people and observed how the women behaved (they were mostly silent). I also learned that within official Zapatista territory, the women were vocal and free; it was in the scattered villages where the old ways ruled that indigenous women were kept in modern servitude, “owned” by the male members of the family. This led me to ponder ways to bring an end to the oppression they experienced.
While in the indigenous-rights movement in Mexico, I participated in the historic caravan where the Zapatista commanders left the jungle to speak in National Congress. After a few days, I volunteered to work in security, which was not yet properly organized. However, meetings were being held to find a way for security to run smoothly. It was in these meetings that I began to vocalize my opinions, then drafted a plan and was voted in as captain of security (crowd control). I had no prior experience in any such thing, yet it was my strong intuition that simply knew what to do in the moment. It took the caravan three weeks to arrive to Mexico City, because we stopped at various towns along the way to speak to the crowds. Both intensity and danger were high, yet my group and I were undaunted and kept the crowds from coming anywhere near the commanders during the entire voyage. Each day provided a new challenge which had to be met with very fast and clear thinking and me and my team pulled it off successfully.
My year in the jungle and experience on the caravan not only gave me a deeper understanding of the struggle for indigenous rights, but also provided me the space to ponder my own life. I became convinced that the only way to help the world would be through my own gifts and talents. This meant returning to the US to take up music again (or so I thought).
Back in the Austin, I began waiting tables at Olive Garden. Shortly after, I was in a three-car accident (I was a passenger) that severely injured me and rendered me unable to work. (I still suffer the effects of this accident.) Because I had no insurance (I had no concept of insurance was at the time) I was not able to get proper medical help. I still did not have support from a person or institution where I could get therapy of any kind, so again I found myself fighting to survive the only way I knew how. I first worked at coffee shops because the labor was less intense than a full restaurant, but the hours I could work did not cover my expenses, so I found myself “working at the club” again, as I called it those days. This was something I kept from the public because it caused me such deep shame; I also blamed myself for not being able to do better.
This was the major turning point for me for I vowed to overcome my problems no matter what it took. This determination was the fire that carried me through the following ten years of deep spiritual transformation and PTSD healing. It was in this spirit that I began searching for my answers and was introduced to a program where people would find hope after years of deep hardship and addiction. I joined, and found the support network I so desperately needed. I also became a mentor for newcomers and helped many overcome their suffering. This came natural to me; I could easily see into people’s lives and “just know” what they needed. The senior mentors often told me I had the “gift of insight”.
After a while I was able to work full-time again and was back in restaurants, bars and coffee shops. I learned about whiskeys, wine and how to mix alcohol. Naturally, I learned all about great coffee. Selling art was also something that flowed easily. As the positive spiral progressed, I began meeting more people and becoming involved in volunteer opportunities in the music industry. The string of events led me to eventually working full-time at a local production company where I would become the event manager for the Pecan Street Festivals, a major arts & crafts festival with attendance of over 200K people over the course of the weekend.
At the beginning, my first task was to call each artist-vendor to ask whether they planned to attend the festival (and to please send their payment). I made hundreds of phone calls and heard many stories and grievances the artists had. Of course, I solved their problems, but I didn’t stop there. I also thought of ways to improve the entire festival, for it had declined to the state of a flea market with trinkets made in China sold in many places. In order to do this, I had to deny the application of many vendors. The risk this posed was a financial loss of over $15,000. I convinced the owner to let me do this and moved on intuition on how to find new vendors. I decided that we would create an all-things-healthy section and promote it to attract small business owners who had a product to sell. My understanding of artists (hello, I am one) let me know that many would show up at the eleventh hour, and most of these would be the high-quality artists we were looking for. Although it was stressful and risky, the event flowed as I had envisioned and our entire healthy section filled up; furthermore, artists began arriving at the last minute (and in full panic) hoping we had a spot available for them still. Indeed, we did. The festival ended up being a phenomenal success in all areas – attendance, financial, PR-wise, and even the artists had record sales.
At the Pecan Street Festival, I handled PR, artists & vendors, logistics and sponsorships. I also managed other events while planning the festival, namely the Texas Garage, a small music festival inside the giant SXSW. It was held in a four-story parking garage and went on for four days from 3pm to 3am, with musicians from rotating every 45 minutes. Texas Garage was named the #1 SXSW Party by the Austin American Statesman; it had a line of people that stretched around the block at both entrances, and a VIP floor that was attended by local and national celebrities and many other high-profile individuals.
Sadly though, the long hours of high-intensity work at the production company caused me to fall ill and again, not be able to handle a full-time job. While I was able to pull off two major events (as the sole manager), the adrenalin this required made it impossible to do a third. I simply collapsed. The best I could do was train my replacement and leave on good terms. (I am still friends with the owner of the production company.)
Ithaca, New York
Fortunately, I got the opportunity to move to Ithaca, New York. This was the move that lifted my life to a whole new level. I began working at Manndible Café (in Mann Library, Cornell University) and became one of the managers until I left to go back to school. The owners of the café were mentors for me as well as strong pillars of support. I repaid their goodness with great work, and we remain friends.
Government Work in Austin, Texas
Back in Austin, Texas, I began working at a government agency in the education department. I edited academic papers and created a budget tracking system for the entire organization. I had also created a system that would allow staff to access all required documents in the cloud or company servers, so anyone working from home would have what they needed. Going on gut feeling, I created this well-organized system before anyone got the first whiff of Covid-19. It was therefore in place with the kinks ironed out by the time lockdown rolled in.
The uncertainty of 2020 directly impacted my job. My position was funded by the contracts with the various school districts, and these were not ready to sign new contracts for the following year. My job was thus cut. I wasted no time though; while I searched for a new job, I also worked on my R2 Society project.
In both Austin and Ithaca, people came into my life who needed help. I knew how to help them and mentored them through their struggles. Some were facing major dilemmas in the workplace, while others were striving to become free of alcohol, drug addiction and abuse. Still others were high professionals who I befriended and helped them overcome their silent struggles with anxiety. In all situations I leaned on my personal experience with overcoming such deep hardship and pointed them to resources and practices that had been very effective for me. I have also been candid when it came time to share my own story, and this seemed to help many to continue the struggle for personal freedom quite a bit.
R2 Society is a project I conceived of while I was still studying at Cornell University. I was attempting to find a way to create a social-support network for people who were working on social-impact projects, businesses, community organizing, etc. I realized this was badly needed in Latin America when I traveled to Honduras, then Mexico to do social-entrepreneurship field work. (The Societal Solutions Scholars grant funded this work; this grant was provided by the Dyson School of Business where I was minoring.) I gave talks in several small universities and colleges outside of Mexico City, and also met with community activists and local politicians and discusses social issues and their possible solutions. Furthermore, I had (still have) deep friendships among social-impact fighters and professors who have shared their homes, stories and struggles with me. This combined with my own experience with trauma led me to believe that the best thing I could do to help is to create a system of social support.
A person can have all the best intentions in the world; but without the proper support, they can accomplish nothing. By proper support, I mean support at all necessary dimensions and ways – financial, legal, emotional, psychological, spiritual, connections, answered questions, quick tips, help with organizing an office, sweeping floors, running errands….anything that would make the fighter’s life easier, so she can be successful at her work. How to create a system where this kind of support is available is the issue at hand.
Because I couldn’t physically go to Latin America to develop my project, I had to find ways to build the system online. This led to the creation of the social platform that I am currently working on. In late 2019, I thought of staring local meetups in Austin to discuss the project and get feedback from the community. Before I could get this off the ground, the pandemic came in full swing and I had to recalibrate to online only. I spent the greater part of my spare time in 2020 learning how to build an online social platform, starting with almost no knowledge whatsoever in terms of web development. As I learned the R2 Society project continued to evolve. One thing I wanted from the beginning was an online and in-person school of sorts where people working in social-impact anything (i.e., agents of change) could take courses on subjects that would help them be more effective at their work.
Think of it as the hub for social change. Courses, support, social connections and even personal development. Now personal development is a big part because if we do not overcome our own struggles and heal our own traumas, we will not be able to have the impact on the world that we dream of. This is something I am acutely aware of because of my personal experience. As I created, brainstormed, meditated, discussed with friends and wrote I began realizing that the best thing for me to do is start with my own story and from that vantage point, offer my experience in the form of coaching, courses and community organizing.
Now there is something to know about me. I know that my story is a big one; and I know that I am extremely strong, brilliant, brave and that people want to know my story… blah, blah, blah… all this does not matter to me. What matters to me is if my story can help others and the world. I will only tell it if it lets the audience know where I am coming from, why I do what I do and why I know what I am talking about.
So there you have it. There is a very brief outline of my life and my project, R2 Society.