Purpose driven People

by Talia Rodríguez

Every Sunday my grandmother listened to church radio. Emphasis on LISTENED, blinded after an early medical malpractice suit, the doctors slashed her retinas, and instead of no glasses, no sight. So, LISTENING, was important to abuela. It transported her little 5ft (body tired from a literal life of long physical labor and raising 7 children as a widow) to other places and other times.

“Back in the day” memories of listening to the church radio and singing at her feet. Then Spanish church wasn’t on TV, there were no mega church zooms (we didn’t have internet even if there was). Options were the following: the good old church bus and if you weren’t ready when that pastor hit the HONK, you were getting LEFT and OR shame. As a law student I sacrificed attending University of District of Columbia Law and the Medgar Evers Scholarship, for those Sundays with grandma and my tias, the frosted windows outside a world of -10 degrees, inside a world of 90+ degrees, lots and lots of house plants and the radio

I became a columnist in 2019 for grandma, who gone for years, I still wanted to talk about. And in May of 2021 I began a pilot podcast live streaming and with the help of some friends in Sept of 2022 I started a radio program, live at SUNY Buffalo State University. Moving my path closer and closer to a Queen who paved the way for me, Fanny.

#latinaherstory August -Fanny Villarreal, Peruvian- traditional Christian leader, can see an “opportunity-gap” and create an infrastructure to fill it, that is self-sustaining, and institutionalized. As a new arrived New Yorker, she struggled to access necessary information, so she started a radio show in 1993 Nosotros Radio Inc., “Your Latino Voice”. “Nosotros was created in 1993 and is an educational bilingual program that provides information, positive messages, hope and values along with Latin music based in Syracuse, NY but with global listener’s base. She also Co-founded the Latino Festival; the Hispanic Coalition NY, Inc. and the Latino Scholarship in CNY Community Foundation.”

And that was in her free time, in Western New York neighbor to neighbor language Fanny is a “Do-er”.

Starting backwards, “She currently serves as the first Latina board member in the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA), and Excellus Blue Cross and Blue Shield Company. In addition, she was appointed by Mayor Walsh as the First Latina Commissioner in the Quality of Life Department and appointed by Governor Cuomo as one of the Re-Start NY board members representing Central New York.” And as my neighbors in downstate in the city would say “stop playin with her.”

Stepping into the role of advocate, you internalize the emotions of the people who are fighting for. With confidence yet sincere vulnerability, Fanny speaks for generations of Latinas whose voices remained unheard in the halls of power AND on the airwaves. Providing an unwavering tone for millions of Latino workers full of sorrow and strength. Fanny’s impact starting in the 1990s on the radio and carrying her voice into public service is difficult to quantify, NPR reporting in 2022 around that only 7% of workers in the media are Latino, and only 3% are Latina, lesser in 1993.

Multi-talented, her appointment as a public health official is beyond historical serving both at the city and state level.

A proud mother, she defines herself first through her service for others, for God, for her sons, for her family, she talks proudly about a past life in Peru and even more proudly about her life in Syracuse. Fanny’s identity as a New American, business, civic, faith, and media leader are a testament to Syracuse’s and the New York State’s love for do-ers and purpose driven people.

And for Fanny, part of her purpose, is to go first. And -She’s got that old fashioned down. And for that I have benefited. Read her full interview below.

1. Who is Fanny and what values were taught in her home? — Fanny Villarreal was born and raised in Peru in an army family. She grew up in a very conservative Catholic home, where she learned the values of love, understanding, education, peace, and the meaning of equity. She earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in law studies. She worked as a judge in Peru until 1991, when she moved to Syracuse and immediately began working in the community. Her first position was as a cashier at Nojaim’s Brothers Supermarkets. While pursuing her education and mastering her English-literacy skills, she became increasingly aware of and concerned about the state of the Latino people of Syracuse and Onondaga County. And so, typical for her, she got involved instead of standing around to watch from the sidelines and she created Nosotros Radio Inc., “Your Latino Voice.” Nosotros was created in 1993 and is an educational bilingual program that provides information, positive messages, hope and values along with Latin music. It is based in Syracuse, NY but has listeners all around the world through social media and Tunein radio. She also Co-founded the Latino Festival, the Hispanic Coalition NY Inc., and the Latino Scholarship in the CNY Community Foundation.

2. What was being a student like and your favorite learning moment growing up? — Fanny attended a girls-only Catholic school called “Sacred Heart.” She went there from Pre-k to 12th grade. Fanny always sat in front of the classroom to be able to ask questions and see the teacher’s reactions. Fanny attended St. Martin of Porres Law School, a Catholic University. There she discovered what it meant to be around males. Her favorite learning moments growing up were the conversations between her dad and her. Her dad empowered Fanny to be the best that she could be and to empower others as well.

3. Does Fanny see herself as a leader and if so why? — Fanny is a natural leader as described by her best friend Diana Perez. She just gets involved in what she thinks is the right thing to do. Fanny’s passion and love for her community has led her to run for public office, served as Executive Director of La Liga/Spanish Action League, and served as a Family and Community Development Director for P.E.A.C.E. Inc. Furthermore, she has been an active member on several boards including, The Syracuse Neighborhood Initiative (SNI), Onondaga Citizens League (OCL), Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today (TNT), Fair Housing of CNY, HomeHead Quarters Inc. and the American Heart Association to name a few. She currently serves as the first Latina board member in the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA), and Excellus BlueCross and BlueShield Company. In addition, she was appointed by Mayor Walsh as the First Latina Commissioner in the Quality-of-Life Department and appointed by Governor Cuomo as one of the Re-Start NY board members representing Central New York, during the pandemic.

Fanny has received numerous awards including The Lifetime Achievement of Successful Business Women; the NY State Red Cross Good Neighbor Award; “40 Under 40”; Latina Leadership Award (representing NY State) from the National Foundation of Women Legislators in Washington DC; NY State Woman of Distinction; Syracuse University Commitment to Education; Notable Women in Human Services Hall of Fame Award; along with several NY State Citations from Assemblyman William Magnarelli, Senator John DeFrancisco and Senator May as well as recognitions from Congressman John Katko’s office.

4. How do you define an advocate or an ally and how do you see your advocacy growing? — Fanny became an even stronger advocate about racism and equity when she became the new Executive Director for the YWCA in January 2013. The YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County Inc. is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. The YWCA team, staff, and board members, strive to develop intentional mission-based programs and services that meet the needs of women and girls in the community. Fanny loves her job and believes she has the best team ever working with her.

Fanny’s personal goal is to assist all individuals to ignite self-discovery. She believes that education is the key to success and has encouraged several members of the community to further their education, and that is her pride as she continues taking classes at Maxwell School at Syracuse University. She loves to teach people how to create their goals and follow their dreams. She hopes that her experiences, accomplishments, and challenges will help others to succeed. Her immensurable love to God has helped her out of the darkest experiences she has encountered. Fanny lives in Syracuse with her two sons: Brian, who attends Rochester Institute of Technology and Carlos, who is in 11th grade.

5. Do you have a role model, if yes who, what kind of role model do you want to be for future generations? — Yes, Jesus. I always remember all the teaching moments he had with his followers. The bible descriptions are incredible. There is a before and after him. No one in history has that type of record. He was a loving, caring but strong person.

6. What is something that Fanny loves about herself? — Fanny loves the fact that she is very persistent. If she doesn’t know about something, she will look for information and educate herself about the topic. If she doesn’t find any information about it, then she will create a way to find it. She almost never accepts a no as a final answer, she thinks there is always a way to create it.

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.


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