Women have unbreakable strength and energy
by Talia Rodriguez
Brave, Yaleyska Medina is committed to addressing public health disparities in her community. Supported in God, from birth, by two loving parents, who built a family on the strength of prayer. She is grounded and unafraid. Motivated by her children, her father is her hero, and a public-school graduate is dedicated to achieving equity for children in Buffalo.
Generous, energy is our most precious currency, and you may not interact with Yaleyska without absorbing the energy of- strength. A supernova is by definition an exploding star. You can add in the parathesis “Yaleyska”. An overcomer, she has faced domestic violence, food and housing insecurity, depression, gender, and racial bias all with the strength of a super nova.
Persistent, she needs the strength, narratives surrounding Latina health issues often time center on lack of health insurance and Yalyeska battles historical medical trauma. For Puerto Rican women sovereignty over our bodies is like sovereignty over our land – we never truly had it.
Familiar, when I met her, I felt like, I knew her. When I learned she works at United Health Care I was elated. I took that to mean she was empowered. I trust them to show up for my community. Curious about how I ended up a lawyer, in public housing, conducting a back-to-school drive (of which she had come to support). I confided: “I use to stand in line, for food, for backpacks, for summer lunch, for Christmas gifts, for whatever “they” were “giving”. Not knowing who “they” were or what truly was going on other than we were in need”. Before I could finish, almost immediately, she asked me. “So, now, what are you going to do about it?”. That’s when I started to feel the how Yaleyska wants all women around her to feel – motivated.
Inspiring, she demonstrates how Women have unbreakable strength and energy, we just have to learn how to channel it like Yaleyska has. Physics says, Force is equal to the change in momentum (mass times velocity) over time. In other words, the rate of change is directly proportional to the amount of force applied. Yayelska is applying pressure.
Women’s History Month is a time of celebration and even though our #latinaherstory community is all across the state and beyond, we are going to celebrate together with an exercise – pull out a calendar, write one thing you like about yourself on each day of the month, and remind yourself of that thing periodically during the day. Drawing from the strength of others remember Yaleyska’s interview and breathe a deep fresh (I am going to make it) breathe.
Read Yaleyska’s full interview below and draw from the Strength of Herstory…
Where were you born and what were the values in your household? – My family is from Puerto Rico. We are a Pentecostal family and our values reflect that. In my household God was always first. My parents were strict. They taught me the importance of honesty, respect, kindness, and humbleness. We were humble and we lived in the projects Castillos, all my life. My parents were always willing to do everything in their power to survive. My father was a mechanic and knew the value of his work and the cars that he fixed. As a single mother who is raising her children totally independent of anyone’s financial help, I look back on the sacrifices my parents made. One time, we needed food. My father was so resourceful that my father went to his car and took a car part out, so they could get food, you know? One of my father’s values that I’ve always take- with me: that no matter what you do, no matter what situation you are in, you don’t go out there stealing. You don’t go out there doing harm. Secondly you know to how to stay determined to survive. Even though I am alone in the parenting journey, one thing that I take from my family, from my parents is: that no matter how hard it is. You gave it your best and with God you are capable. Don’t let anybody bring you down. Don’t let anybody discourage you, you have in your hands the power to do whatever your heart desires.
Did you enjoy school? – I did in part. It’s tricky because in Puerto Rico I enjoyed school. I enjoyed school as it was amazing because I was very smart. I was always outstanding. My grades were perfect. Actually, they did what is called the NASA project in Puerto Rico and they were picking from every single school. The two most outstanding in the whole entire school. I was one of the two picked. I was so proud.
However, when I moved here, they placed me back in 12th grade where I had a complete, I think like six months’ worth of school to qualify for graduation. At that time school became a challenge because the language barrier. You know its intimating. I was very smart but learning a whole new language is challenging. It’s a difficult challenge to assimilate into a school environment when you do not speak the instructional language. Still to this day I think in Spanish, and I must translate in English when I speak to make sense. I feel like I’m always doing double the job because for me I think in two languages. At the same time, it’s amazing to be able to understand two different cultures and two different backgrounds. I am proud of my culture, but I also consider myself to have American grit because I overcame the challenge of moving to Buffalo with no fear whatsoever.
What was your first and was is your favorite job? – At 17, My first job was at McDonald’s and then after that I went into restaurants. However, to be quite honest and I’m being authentic. And I’m not saying this because I currently work with the company but my best job is the one that I have right now. I have to say sincerely- that working for United Healthcare is my favorite job specifically because of my position and the supportive people like my current boss. I appreciate her mentoring and leadership so much. I have worked in the health industry for 9 years and I know UHC is the best place to work. When I started my journey at United Health Care, I had no idea it was going to affect my life in this way. As an outreach specialist, I have the privilege to build community and governmental relationships. So, I can connect with other people. It’s amazing meeting people in the field with the same goals inside and outside the company. A lot of my colleagues- they have same ambition to help others and help the community, that I have naturally. So, supporting the community in identifying our health needs and connecting our company and its mission to the community is invigorating to me. My heart is open to help everyone and so it’s for our companies and the people that work there like me. Literally my job title is to engage build relationships. As a professional, it fulfills me completely as a human being. Every day I am fulfilling my purpose in life. I feel like everybody is born with talent and a purpose, and my purpose was to make others happy and give. United Health care allows me to do that in the place that is most important to me, the place I call home. Whatever it is at United Health Care I know we are helping, and my job is aligned with my personal principles.
What was the moment you were inspired to take full control of your future? – Immediately I think of when I went through my divorce. I was a young wife and mother when we relocated together from Puerto Rico, six months later we separated. That’s one of the reasons that school was difficult for me because I was struggling to adjust to a new city as a new mother with no support. Prior to that, we did everything together. Together we welcomed children and learned to parent together. He helped me mature and learn English. He also taught me to drive, and gave me independence, but I didn’t have true independence. During the time I was in school, and we were married I suffer at home. My entire world revolved around him. When I divorced, it was 20 days after having my baby. I was abandoned in a house with nothing but my bed and my television. I had two children and that’s when I said, you know what?
It is up to me to take it from here. Nobody is going to tell me what to do going forward. It was then I realized, if I want it, I have to get it for my children, because no one is going to come and knock on my door. No one was there to ask me, and my children did we you need help? I had to help myself and lead my children.
I hope people are motivated by my story and understand that part of my lived experiences and struggles and triumphs are why I appreciate my job so much. I appreciate my boss and everyone else who comes in my life and gives positive family. Again, I come from a very humble and poor family. For example, we ate rice and beans every day, we only had pizza as a treat because my parents were very responsible about money and balancing our needs and wants. I knew I achieved success when I was able to budget and provide what was our treats on special occasions, to a daily occurrence if I wanted to – for my children.
What advice do you have for other Latina like the next people who want their voices to be heard in the community? – So- not to be silent. That, you, cannot let fear control your emotions. To not allow anybody (absolutely not one single soul) anybody tell you that you are not capable. If you feel that you have the potential to do something and you wanna be heard, you must speak up.
What is your theory on human potential? – I feel everybody has potential. I feel everybody is already born with a potential. However not everybody has the same life circumstances and joys. No, two people stand in the same space. Everyone has potential and everyone has things that must work at or things that are unique to their experience and personal life. We all aspire to live up to our full potential and we need to try.
What is your opinion of the fact that Latina women are the most underpaid demographic in the United States? – I think it’s unjust because that pay does not reflect our contribution. We are always being labeled and people undervalue us because of our race. My race and identity do not equal my abilities or my potential to do my job. They underestimate us a lot.
What fuels you are personal ambition? – My kids.
Who do you admire as a leader? – My father because he is a source of huge inspiration for me and my backbone. My father lived his life for his family. He was always a proper gentleman to my mother and never asked her to work outside the house. His life reflects the values that he taught us and that is a source of great motivation for me. He taught us to be supportive to each other, to keep faith- knowing that God is real and knowing that no matter what you do, God is always going to be there. His relationship and faith in God inspired me and it was a source of great discipline for him as he would do absolutely anything to provide for us. He taught me to believe in the unseen, he taught us the answer to: how do you believe in a God you don’t see?
With my dad, he always made me us feel like: no matter what you do, no matter what we’re going through right now. Just know- you’re gonna be great in life. We worked hard as a family and he worked hard in life. He always taught us, if you have 2 feet, you can work. He is such a handworker. He is now in his 70’s but still helps the community by working on cars when he can. He is an amazing man and I am so grateful to learn from his leadership.
What is your vision for your future? – My vision is to build a space of resource for my community. I would like to centralize services where people can go to heal and improve their health on their journey of survivorship. Part of my desire to teach women the power they have when they can exercise control. I am inspired by my life. I want people to feel inspired and to be self-motivated.
I always strive to teach my children to be servant leaders. As a family, we feed the homeless every single year on Thanksgiving. My children and I pay for all the food out of our household budget. We prioritize saving for this event every year over our own wants because they are wants and not needs. I teach my children the importance of helping others because at one time I needed help and I got it. I overcame because of my faith in God. I want to use my life to inspire others. We can heal our community by speaking life into each other and not judging and instead of saying it’s your fault! Say, what resources can I give you? and I believe in you! My vision is to build a space of healing and continue to work at United Health Care and maintain my commitment to community and family.
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.