LatinWE Foundation helps Latinas get grounded in business
Marisol Ascañio was in survival mode when she came to the United States in 2008 with her husband and her daughter from Venezuela — escaping escalating tensions between three countries.
“We came here with the basics,” she said, referring to the diplomatic and military crisis back home. “It’s very bad, so we came here with barely nothing. We had to start all over again. When you start all over again, you don’t see things so clearly. You just do things for today.”
Ascañio, a dual-citizen of the United States and Venezuela, said she and her husband spent their early days in the U.S. looking for work, not actively exploring ways to get an education. But Ascañio said the idea was always in the back of her mind.
Ascañio is one of dozens of women is who have participated in life guidance classes funded by the nonprofit organization LatinWE Foundation, which seeks to help Latina women over 30 navigate the business world in the United States.
The program is an 8-week course, with classes that begin with subjects like, “Who am I?” or “Where am I going?” and others that dive into creating business plans. Each class takes place on Saturday at the University of Houston Victoria - Katy campus and is taught by a local business professional. The current session began last month and will end mid October.
The organization’s founder, Lizzette Diaz, understands Ascañio’s story all to well, as she herself escaped her war torn home country of Colombia before coming to U.S. to seek asylum.
“Many times the women who come here don’t speak English, or it’s their husbands who have the legal work documents,” Diaz said. “These are women who are working hard to protect their families, take care of their families. But they might have been lawyers in Colombia, dentists, worked in psychology or were in business administration or maybe they were the general manager for a great company and now they are here doing things they have never done in their lives.”
Ascañio, who was born in the United States but spent most of her life living in Venezuela, received her bachelor’s degree in architecture and worked as an architect for many years, she said.
When she finally had a baby after many years of trying, she decided she wanted to be a board-certified lactation consultant and because she was bilingual, she knew she could tap into that market. That’s where LatinWE was able to help, she said.
“I had it in my mind that I wanted to get the certification,” Ascañio said. “It’s not that I didn’t have the ability to think about it, it’s that I didn’t have the moment for somebody to tell me, ‘Hey look at this opportunity to have your own own business.’ LatinWE classes opened up my heart to think about the possibility of having my own business.”
Since taking classes at LatinWE, Ascañio was able to win a scholarship through the foundation and go back to college to per-requisites for her lactation certification, including courses on biology, anatomy and physiology.
Without the scholarship funds, Ascañio would not have been able to have been able to afford the college classes.
Karla Hernandez DeCuir, senior director of enrollment management and external affairs for UHV Katy, said she’s seen a lot of educated professional women come to the United States looking for where to begin their careers.
It’s one of the reason’s she teamed up with Diaz and her foundation and gave LatinWE a classroom space at UHV-Katy.
“I was very motivated by the mission of the foundation,” Hernandez DeCuir said. “I think it’s great that she’s finding a way to help women who have either been stay at home moms, or that are looking to get back into the workforce to just give them options. I love that mission.”
The mission is personal to Hernandez DeCuir, she said.
“That actually happened to my mother,” she said. “She was a pharmacist in Guatemala and when she came here, she didn’t know how to pick that up, so she just went to do housekeeping. And I wish that there was a foundation’s like Lizzette’s where you can give them more information about what steps they should take based on where they want to go.”