Sandra Lopez learned quickly at an early age how to bridge the cultural gap between the world her parents knew back in Mexico and the one she has known her entire life in Chicago, IL.
From her early childhood years refilling salt and pepper shakers in her family’s restaurant and translating complicated medical terms at doctor’s visits during her brothers’ diagnosis of Autism, Sandra has been on a mission to gain personal courage in the face of her own fears.
Ironically she recalls, “Over the years, I eventually got promoted to work in the coatroom. I spent most of my time reading books and greeting customers there.”
I never knew I would have my first networking experience in a closet.”
From the troves of hangers, jackets, and heavy leathers, an avid reader, Sandra, would get her first big opportunity, as a frequent customer encouraged her to apply to the library. “It was the one place that I could get free education and homework assistance because of the language barrier at home.” She interviewed for the position, received an offer, and developed a deep passion to promote library services to underprivileged communities through The Cook Memorial Library Bookmobile.
Although a college-bound Sandra would leave the library scene for many years during her studies at Northeastern Illinois University, the formidable experience would remain long after. After graduating, Sandra was promoted as a Multicultural Representative at MillerCoors, leading a team of ten members.
Still, Sandra felt a void in her heart to return to the library world, her “true calling,” she calls it. “I knew I had to go back because the community needed me, but I didn’t leave corporate until we were the number one sales team in the Chicago area, and I had gained all the respect of the men that I led.”
Currently, Sandra is the Head of Outreach Services at Round Lake Area Public Library, and is responsible for increasing awareness and expanding services to serve Latino families and patrons. Though she is living out her mission every day, she struggled with having the courage to speak freely and openly in public about her personal experiences. “For so long, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I always wanted to be more open. But lack of courage didn’t allow me.”
It wasn’t until Sandra attended the FUERTE session on Personal Courage, where Retired Colonel Jill Morgenthaler inspired her to embrace the uniqueness of her story, that she finally felt courageous enough to speak up. “Before joining FUERTE, I would mimic those panelist styles of speaking, or I would let them set the tone and hold back. It wasn’t really the approach that I wanted to take.”
As a result of truly opening up and connecting with her audience on a recent panel at a Women’s Business Empowerment Event, Sandra has received six speaking invitations in the past two weeks.
“Growing up, I saw being Latina as a disadvantage. But now that I am a part of FUERTE, I see it as an awesome experience, something to embrace and leverage, not a setback. It is reflected in everything I do. I love being a Latina because I can be a chameleon.”
Sandra is currently studying to receive a Masters of Library and Information Science at The University of Wisconsin (U of M).
If Sandra’s story reminds you of a young Latina in your life that is holding back for whatever reason, we invite you to encourage her to enroll in The Latina Mastery Institute’s FUERTE Program. Preparing our young Latinas to be strong/fuerte is our priority. Join us!