Inspiring Interview: Violeta America Rosales
If I have learned one thing about women leaders, it is that resilience, drive and compassion can fuel you to reach even the goals that seem unreachable. Having the courage and endurance to step into unknown places can teach you more about life than staying in your comfort zone. It is inspiring to see that as girls, we are surrounded with exemplar models of women that have transcended the many challenges life has to offer.
Violeta America Rosales is nothing short of inspiring. A 26-year-old graduate student in Cairo, Egypt, Rosales has committed her time to learning about herself, her community and the world around her. She wants to contribute to people’s success and serve a purpose in life’s larger picture. Her love for research motivated her to pursue a series of independent studies at The University of Illinois and Princeton. After finishing school in Chicago, Illinois, at DePaul University in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study Arabic in Cairo, Egypt. Even with her impressive accolades, Rosales remains a humble and lively woman passionate about empowering young girls to reach their goals.
Rosales is a thriving example of a girl that was hungry for the world and was not afraid of going after it. After speaking with her for a few hours on Skype, I was humbled by her gentle brilliance overshadowed by her charismatic, vibrant and warming personality.
Karen Gaytán: Tell us about yourself and the work you have done.
Violeta America Rosales: I am Guatemalan-American, who grew up in Lake Jackson, Texas, a small town south of Houston. I was very curious as a kid. I have always been interested in learning about culture. In high school, most of my friends were from different ethnic backgrounds – I was exposed to different languages and religions. It allowed me to develop a unique interest in the world we share. I wanted to travel and expose myself to various cultures.
In college, I had the opportunity to learn more about myself and where I came from, which is why I decided to study Latin American Studies and Spanish. After my exposure to the Americas and visiting Guatemala often, I found myself with one question: Now that I have learned quite a bit about myself and where I come from, how can I learn about other places and how people perceive the Americas, particularly the US? After the attacks of September 11, there was a lot of fear and hysteria about the Middle East and North African (MENA) region as a whole. I wanted to learn Arabic to be able to communicate, understand, and relate to people. I decided to study abroad in Cairo, Egypt as an undergraduate student in 2009. I took some courses on Islam, Islamic Architecture, and Arabic at The American University in Cairo. I also completed two summer research projects that looked at the Arab influence in Latin America and the growing South-South cooperation between Latin America and the Arabic-speaking region. One was at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2008, and the other at Princeton University in 2009. These research programs made me want to pursue graduate studies related to global affairs.
After my short-term study abroad, I applied to the Fulbright program and was in Cairo for about 9 months in 2010 and in 2011 when the Egyptian uprising happened. Seeing all the political movement and the call for political reform compelled me to work in Journalism. I worked as a copyeditor with Ahram Online, where I edited articles and fact checked for errors. I feel like I contributed to a bigger cause by providing people with accurate information on issues related to the MENA region. I also wanted to be cautious as to not cross any cultural boundaries. Think about a community. If they’re not able to access accurate information, how will they ever find a solution? Change is like a puzzle, and accurate information is one of the vital pieces to be able to complete it. You can’t complete a puzzle if you don’t have all the pieces. We have to know what is going on if we want to change the status quo.
Understanding my passions has driven most of my work. I worked for a non-governmental organization that aims to support social development through global collaboration and social enterprise, as a way of learning about the field.
With a little less than 8 months left to complete my graduate studies, I will be expecting my Master of Global Affairs from The American University in Cairo. I hope to eventually work in policy analysis and in public service.
KG: What do you think is the most prominent issue young girls around the world face today?
VAR: Definitely the oversexualization of women. The fact that we can’t walk around the streets without being looked at, or without being given value based on our physical attributes is very disturbing. I think as women, we constantly have to assert our intelligence and rights. Beyond the physical, we have to navigate a fine line between sounding confident and delicate.
Even though we encounter these difficulties, girls all over the world learn to navigate them. We ignore them – the people calling us out on the street, we go a different way, or we take another person with us. It’s sad because what I wear and whether it’s 10 AM or 10 PM should not matter. Regardless of where I am in the world, I have a right to walk the street in peace.
I also think every girl is vulnerable to this. I don’t think it has to do with religion or level of education. A person can be very intellectual or religious and still harass women. It has to do with how we are socially conditioned to perceive women. This is where the media plays a huge role. We live in a world that defines women and beauty based on the physical. We need to transform minds. It requires a deep change in the way we look at people and in where we place value.
The media and film industry have to be in on it as well. We have to change the messages that people are receiving. We have to be aware that these institutions have immense power in terms of producing, reproducing and reflecting societal practices. Interacting with different types of people fuels diversity, and diversity drives innovation. Thus, we need to keep encouraging girls to get involved, to travel, and to learn several languages. Perceptions of women will change as we continue to see more examples of women in leadership.
KG: What has been the most important lesson you have learned?
VAR: Tomorrow isn’t promised. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously and get fixed on trivial things. It seems that the more we have the more we want. We want to pursue more degrees, and buy better cars and better houses, but life really boils down to relationships. Being able to develop and maintain relationships of all kinds with different types of people is what is truly important.
Another crucial lesson I have learned is to be genuinely nice to people. It helps me to think of myself as a source of energy. I want to be positive force and pass on acts of kindness to others to generate good vibes in this world. If we ultimately understand that we are really not that different, we can create powerful bonds based on kindness and respect. I wouldn’t want anyone to wish bad upon me, so why would I wish bad upon someone else?
KG: What philosophy do you live by?
VAR: Plan your work. Work your plan. Fail to plan. Plan to fail. But also learn to adapt and adjust when things do not go as planned.
There is only so much we can plan before things beyond our control start to interfere. Your plan is only today’s best guess, so focus on the things you can control. We don’t know what’s going to happen, the best thing we can do is be alert and learn to adapt to our environment. We can learn a lot from animals in this regard.
KG: What leadership qualities do you most admire?
VAR: I admire a leader that has effective communication skills and understands the process of listening and observing. Being able to listen to everyone’s needs and opinions. Being able to explain things to people and making a complex idea sound simple is an admirable skill. If someone is able to do that, then it means they are able to talk and relate to people from all walks of life regardless of their socioeconomic realities.
KG: What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
VAR: When I was in high school, I was involved in a lot of school organizations, sports, and after school activities. I feel like I missed out on a lot of friendships, a lot of high school gatherings, and just enjoying my teenage years. I was always too busy.
I would tell myself to enjoy life and your present. You can find inspiration outside of yourself. Your relationships are going to fuel you, you need them to keep you going and be happy.
My close relationships are a fundamental part of my happiness. Life satisfaction is about having peace of mind. If you’re not happy doing something, then you shouldn’t be doing it. There is only one option: to be happy.