#WomanCrushWednesday – Inspiring Women in the Community: Victoria Ochoa
At GENaustin, we are deeply inspired by individuals that serve as leaders in their communities. Particularly, we admire girls and women that have a relentless drive and resilience to pursue their dreams in spite of the challenges that they encounter. Today, we’re highlighting Victoria Ochoa, a young woman who continues to reach for her goals, kindle her spirit of leadership, and advocate for her community.
Ochoa is a junior at St. Edward’s University studying Political Science. Originally from McAllen, Texas, Ochoa dreams of becoming a policy maker in our state legislature, and has extensive experience that has provided her with valuable insight into how she can best support her border community. I met with her to ask her a few questions about her journey as an empowered young leader, the challenges and benefits of being a girl, and the motivation behind her passion.
Karen Gaytán: Please tell us about the work that you have done.
Victoria Ochoa: I came to college with a few questions in mind that have driven my work. How can I best empower my border community? Where along the policy making process do I want to make the most impact? Call me optimistic, but I believe government has the ability to bring people and entities together to find solutions.
I have done my work with that perspective in mind. My freshman year of college I had the opportunity of interning for State Representative Marisa Marquez of El Paso. Even though I did a lot of administrative work, I was still able to get a feel for the culture and the dynamics of the different regions in the state. I then applied to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Summer Internship Program in Washington, D.C., with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa from McAllen, Texas where I was able to perform more policy related tasks, such as writing memos and attending hearings. One of the most valuable realizations I had was that the scope of the Hispanic community is huge and went beyond my experiences growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. I learned a lot about representation in places of power and how that influences the decisions that affect thousands of lives. I noticed there were not a lot of Hispanic interns, so I had to learn to always speak about my experience growing up in the valley because not many people shared it. I learned that my perspective was valid because it was so rare, and that if I wanted to make a difference in my border community I had to learn how to speak up. The expectations of me were much larger.
After my summer in DC, it was time to go back to Austin. My sophomore year of college I interned for Annie’s List, an organization committed to electing women into office. I gained some perspective into the many challenges women have when running for office in the state of Texas. I had many questions, but one that stuck with me was why women, particularly in our state legislature, have to endure decisions being made about their lives by individuals that cannot relate to their situations. Why did a woman have to filibuster for thirteen hours just to have her voice being heard? Why are there not more women in our state legislature? These questions and experiences emphasized why I wanted to be a part of the solution. If anything, my motivation and drive was multiplied. My experiences just reiterated the importance of working hard to have my voice and the interests of community heard.
My ambition was at this point more fervent than ever. The following summer I interned in the Vice President’s Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. I would assist his staff as they put together round tables and meetings with different constituency groups focused on issues related to immigration, refugee populations, and women. I gained perspective into our federal government and the decisions that are made at such a high level. I am now serving as an intern for the Kozmetsky Center of Excellence and am hoping to get an international perspective into the main issues I have been navigating throughout my different experiences.
I have been very blessed and fortunate to have been presented with such incredible opportunities, and I feel an immense amount of responsibility to my fellow community members. I stay involved in service by mentoring students, putting together my university’s largest community service project, and working on programming I feel our communities need. I am currently trying to change the culture surrounding sexual assault on college campuses because it is not where it needs to be.
The way I see it is you have four years to enrich yourself in as many ways as you possibly can. There are so many programs available that I must take advantage of in order to be the best leader I can be.
KG: Why are you passionate about girls’ issues and what do you think is the most prominent issue young girls face today?
VO: I have always been raised to feel that my gender is a very empowering thing. I was taking a look at books I read when I was little, and a lot of them were gender neutral. There was one on nursery rhymes that got rid of all the sexist undertones. My dad always told me “you are no less because you are a woman.” I think as a woman, it is my responsibility to have the courage to represent women equally.
I think the biggest challenge girls face has to do with bias. I know that as a girl I can have a strong personality and be assertive, but if I want to be effective I always have to smile and be nice, as opposed to my male peers. I don’t mind doing it as long as it means I get to be effective, but it still begs the question: why? I see many of my girl peers be affected by a confidence issue, and even though I do not have any empirical evidence to support it, I know this is a big reason why we don’t see many women in leadership positions.
KG: What has contributed the most to your success?
VO: I think my curiosity. I love learning and having conversations and discussing things with people. What keeps me going, though, is knowing that two generations ago, my mother’s parents were picking fruit in the fields and were migrant workers and my mother busted her butt to get an undergraduate career and a master’s degree. I feel that I owe so much to that legacy of hard work. I have undeniably been given so much and it has only been made more apparent because of where I have grown, where the poverty and obesity rates are the highest in the country and the literacy rates the lowest. When I have been given so much, I understand that much is expected of me. A lot of the times, people don’t go back to McAllen after leaving for college, but I feel an incredible responsibility to that side of my family and my community. If not me, then who?
I have always had the support of my family. My parents are my #1 fans. They have encouraged me to pursue all my goals and have supported me emotionally and financially to achieve them. My faith in God has always been a present force as well.
KG: What leadership qualities do you most admire?
VO: I like people who know how to incorporate all perspectives. They give everyone a piece of what they want. It requires being very collaborative and being a very good listener.
I like people who are so darn driven and passionate. That keeps me going – passionate leadership.
KG: What philosophy do you live by?
VO: Speak up. Do not cower away from sharing your perspective. It is valid. Especially if you find yourself in a place where your perspective is rare – that just amplifies your need to share it.
Know what makes you happy. Pay attention to the things that you love. But always do your homework. Always be prepared. Know the background of what you’re about to do.
KG: What have been the most valuable lessons you have learned in your journey as a woman?
VO: As much as I realize there are challenges to being a woman that are culturally and institutionally beyond my control, being a woman is a beautiful thing. Within the confines of my culture, I can easily be graceful and assertive. The roles I get to take on throughout my life fulfill me. Being a woman, a daughter, a leader, a significant other… there is a duality. It comes with its challenges, but it’s a duality we have none-the-less.
KG: What would you tell your thirteen year old self?
VO: Awkward phases are a character building time! Always raise your hand, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s going to pay off! Continue to be the most outspoken person in class. Develop hobbies. Find out what makes you happy so you can always come back to it. You will be much happier with yourself.