#LatinaHerstory – A Tool Belt Full of Skills
by Talia Rodriguez
Black joy can be in Spanish. Joy- the most fundamental resistance to oppression is bilingual. Black joy can be served with frijoles, seasoned with sazon, and fried twice until the it floats the right way in the oil. In Puerto Rico joy is food and flavors- like the three flavors that make up the soul. And since Puerto Ricans are so deeply food oriented, they often use flavors as a parallel for socio- cultural construction of race and feelings and just about everything else for that matter.
Dorcas is Puerto Rican aka three different flavors of joy, Black, Taina, Spanish joy. Plus 5 children and grandchildren and-a tool belt full of skills – una Diva campesina. A woman’s whose knowledge spans both rural and urban environments and infrastructures- human birth to A.I.- and wifehood.
A woman of contradictions with the flavor of high glam Latina CEO and that of a construction boss. She never dreamed of her current life. Once, a feminine single mother who encouraged her husband into construction business. Years later, she now runs a company of her own. The first Latina-owned MWBE certified privately held construction company in Monroe County, New York is hers.
“Because everything in life changes” she said herself. She speaks many languages, streaming in between thoughts, webpage tabs, content areas, and adjusting her toneation/verbiage to her audience. Socially, emotionally, politically, intelligent she’s a thriver (I’ve abandoned the word survivor this year).
Born in Puerto Rico, living in Rochester, a sometimes Buffaloian specifically-I’d pick her for a hitter any day. And know I’m volun-coaching T-ball this year.
Her favorite school? Herman Badillo Academy PS 76. Named after the first Puerto Rican mayoral candidate in a major city in the continental United States. Well versed in our history Dorcas says we all know about Puerto Rico’s black joy in Spanish. She’s right. Second to knowledge there is silence though. We don’t talk about blackness and during Black History month I ask Whynot?
Ironically, race in the Caribbean was a topic of high discussion in Europe. Policies changing to match European fancy. The first African arriving with Ponce de Leon a free man in 1509. 150 years later the Spanish offered freedom and land to Africans from non-Spanish colonies for emigrating. Then another 100 years later reversing and encouraging Europeans and specifically their slaves to move to Puerto Rico. Most people who were kidnapped and trafficked were from the Gold coast- Many were Yoruba, Ashanti, Fon, Igbo, and Bantu.
Did you know the Spanish Crown referred to Blackness as a defect? Allowing highborn “mulatto” Spanish subjects to apply and pay to be deemed legally white?
My people were Bantu says my DNA. On the 1872 slave census my great grandmother was recorded, 13, Elvira, daughter of Felipa, a Slave. Don Maximiliano Rivera- her owners name- the pain of generations in one name. We made it -out of the sugar cane field-No matter that the master set the price for freedom. We literally paid it.
Dorcas ancestors faced the same adversities and generations later there are still serious challenges for Latinas. Now in Business, no longer owned but owners. Programs like the MWBE seek to acknowledge and mitigate some of the impacts of lasting economic discrimination.
A designation, but one that reminds us that “we” need to keep fighting for who isn’t in the room and be authentic about why they weren’t in the first place.
And in case you need the language for future advocacy specifically within our own community – I usually tend to phrase the question “well why are there no Afro-Latinas here?” “Has the question been examined using the lens of an Afro Latina? “Everyone who has been asked to speak is white presenting” “Why are there no black professionals included here”? and so on.
Dorcas says be confident no matter if you’re the only woman in the room, and I’m going to remember that piece of #latinaherstory and Elvira and Felipa and the feeling of Puerto Rican Sun every time I walk in a board room.
Read Dorcas’s Full Interview below, follow her brand, learn from Dorcas, una Diva Campesina, a Construction Boss, an Afro-Latina CEO.
Who are you? – I am Mrs. Dorcas Roman. My birth name is Dorcas Calderon. I am from Puerto Rico. I am the mother of 5. A proud marine mom, a grandmother of two soon to be three, I am a serial entrepreneur. I have multiple businesses. I have one brother and two sisters.
There was an emphasis on the importance of education in my home. Growing up with my mom she was very focused on education. As a child I was quiet. We spent family time together. I really enjoyed being with my family all together at home. To me family is number one and I am trying to maintain that tradition which is hard in this generation.
What is the name of your business? – The main company is Dorcas Construction Company. I am proud of the construction field that I am in. The second is Travel On Faith, a travel company I own. I have Tabitha Design and it’s a shirt company and I design shirts and hats and another in planning stages.
I wanted to implement my name because its original to me and its rare. I love it and I feel like its perfect. I chose Travel On Faith because as a Christian woman with faith is important and traveling is a theme for me. Tabitha is the Greek version of Dorcas so I named it Tabitha Design.
What was your experience as a student? – My journey was different than any other student. I was a straight A student throughout 11th grade and during high school I became pregnant. I attended young mothers while pregnant. The women there were not motivated the way I felt I was, so I challenged the GED. As a young mother I dedicated myself to my children and was a stay-at-home mom. In my mid 20’s, with all the kids in school, I decided to invest in myself again and go to college. I enrolled in community college at MCC. I first studied accounting. I then studied to become a medical secretary. I graduated. I was working as a medical secretary when I learned of the opportunity to become a clerk in the Rochester City Schools where I would be closer to my children and have better benefits. I worked for school district as an Office Clerk III Bilingual. I then re-started my business degree, and I am three classes away! During Covid I prioritized our family business and had to pause my studies.
How do you define a businessperson? – I don’t just like winning myself I like to see other people wining along the way. It’s not just about business to me, it’s about being a role model in a company has a higher return than the actual profit. The satisfaction of motivating someone is incredible.
I see businesspeople as people who work hard and want to see other people succeed in whatever way is good for them in the areas of business.
What is the most important thing someone has taught you? – I want to rephrase that question “what have I taught myself” Learning to fail in life I was not happy with. If I failed, I was not pleased with myself. I thought that each individual failure meant that I was not making progress but then I learned without failing you can’t succeed. It was hard to swallow to learn that failing is ok and that its part of the winning process.
I was raised with a high value on excellence was important. I never even wanted a B I wanted an A. As an adult you must realize failing is part of winning and if you don’t realize that you’re going to be stuck.
You cant concentrate on not failing because its creates fear of failing. And then people don’t go after their dreams because their afraid to fail.
What was the name of favorite school? – My favorite school was actually Herman Badillo. It was my last school in Buffalo on Carolina st. When I left for Rochester, I cried. I loved that school. I had wonderful friends, and we had such dedicated teachers. We had a better curriculum than the one waiting for me in Rochester – sad to say.
I would have never thought that I would say this, my favorite job is construction. I can be so exhausted, but I am not tired of the job. And I am excited because I can earn that sense of accomplishment and completion because I never saw myself in construction. I was a feminine pretty girl and never a tom boy. Now I know so much, and I have the whole package.
What is your remedy for a long day? – A long hot bath! Something about being in the quiet calms my soul and transforms me and I feel brand new every time!
Who is someone who inspires you? – My downfalls in life- me being homeless and me coming from a humble background inspired me to work harder to fight harder to achieve my goals. I told my husband we must open a business! He had the skill set and I had the business knowledge. We hit a hard time and I said we must make sure this doesn’t happen again. I am motivated to show my children that even though life is hard you must keep fighting to succeed. That is what motivated me- the hard times in life and realizing that I didn’t want that reality to my life.
Where do you want your business to grow? – I want to have a company that has an equal gender ratio. I want to implement workforce development programs to allow for opportunities for young women like myself to learn about how important the construction field is.
But mostly I want to go where god has in store for me. I want to leave something for my kids and my grandkids. I am also working hard so that when I do end up where I want to be in life, I can bless my children and my grandchildren. I have the urge to take care of my children no matter how old they are. They will always be my babies.
What advice do you have for students who have experienced interruption in their education? – I would let them know that life is – ever changing. Everything in life changes, we grow, everything changes our home, our cars, having changes in life is good- so you don’t stay stuck in one pattern. If I stayed in Buffalo, I likely wouldn’t be the woman that I am today. Change is good and sometimes we don’t see it that way because we are so comfortable in that area and place and location that we don’t want to change it. Change makes you see things in a different way, and it makes you learn different things. That’s one of the reasons I became a travel business owner because now I want to travel the world. I am adapting my goals to my achievements, so change is good and it helps in life.
What advice do you have for women who walk into a room, and they are the only woman there? – Have confidence. No matter how much they think you can’t do what you’re doing. Show them. Women can accomplish more and beyond. I have been in this business 7 years and people still consider me a novice, and a lot of guys give me advice like it’s my first day! If I got the job done that is the only thing that matters. Just because I’m not doing how you’re doing it doesn’t mean that I’m doing it the wrong way.
What do you say about being black in Puerto Rico? – Parts of my father’s family has African lineage. They talked about it. Because of where we lived we knew Black people were here and they left the legacy of plena and bomba and music. We proudly carry their traditions in Puerto Rico specifically we talk about being part African and their influence on the foods we eat.
What are the values you want the world to know you for? – I want people to see me like ‘that is the woman that was able and wanted to see other people succeed”. Me seeing other women succeed in life is so beautiful. Especially when you have people who want to support each other reciprocally is important. Having someone there that can make your life easier in the business field is important. Having a business is not for the weak. I want people to remember me for my efforts to promote women in business. As a mother and as a friend I always put people before me. I always think about the other person and sometimes I think about “what about me”? I never hold hate. I always forgive and I am always focusing on building positive energy around me and positive relationships. I want people to recognize that part of personality.
Talia Rodriguez is a bi-racial, bi-cultural, and bi-lingual Latina from Buffalo. Ms. Rodriguez’s mission is to write about Latina’s, who have shaped the face of our city and our region. It is Ms. Rodriguez’s believes that our own people should inspire us and in telling our collective stories, we push our community forward. Ms. Rodriguez is a community advocate and organizer. She is a 5th generation West Sider, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo Law School, and an avid baseball fan. She lives on the West Side with her young son A.J… Ms. Rodriguez sits on the board of several organizations including the Belle Center, where she attended daycare. Ms. Rodriguez loves art, music, food, and her neighbors.