“¡Sí, se puede!”

For young Hispanic women, it is common to be burdened with having to become caretakers and staying home after high school. 

“In Hispanic households, they kind of keep you in a little huddle. They don’t want to let you go,” Joceline Rojas, 18, said. “My parents never really pressured me saying like, ‘You need to go to college.’”

Rojas is part of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas’ Latinas in Progress. The program, founded in 1988, promotes the professional development of young Hispanic women through a series of educational sessions, community service events and mentoring efforts. The sessions include a parental informational, a communication workshop, a civic involvement session and others that prepare the women for life after high school.

The program’s first session teaches parents about the benefits of going to college.

“We’re all new to this,” Rojas said. “I am a first-generation child. I have a little brother who’s 6 years old, and I hope that he sees me as guidance in the future. I am the oldest in the family. I feel like everyone right now is looking over me.”

Rojas’ parents relied on her to care for her younger brother, waking up early in the morning and “Ubering” him to school. “It’s not because they wanted to. It’s because they needed that extra hand with my younger brother.”

This year, Texas Christian University offered 40 full-ride scholarships to students in the community dubbed Community Scholarships totaling $1,757,391. Through a partnership with the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas’ Fort Worth chapter, the university granted a roughly $260,000 scholarship to Rojas.

Scholarship recipient Rojas, a Marine Creek Collegiate High School graduate, went through the Latinas in Progress program during a challenging pandemic year.

“Because of COVID-19, I couldn’t get in touch with my friends to ask them if they had applied,” Rojas said. “Everything was virtual. They actually made it very easy but at the same time, it was a little complex. It was a lot of emails.”

Everyone was one email away and prepared to answer the participants’ questions, she said.

Joceline Rojas, 18, was one of 40 Community Scholars at Texas Christian University this year. The program awarded more than $1.7 million in scholarships. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“It was all interactive. You were never bored,” Rojas said. The sessions took students on virtual tours of college campuses and helped them network with professionals who were part of past Latina in Progress sessions.

Rojas, half-Guatemalan and half-Mexican, said her family, who owns a tortillería, was not completely open to letting her go to college, in the beginning. 

The scholar, who is majoring in psychology, and her family are only a 15-minute drive from each other, but Rojas said life will be very different as she will be living in a dorm with a roommate away from her family.

Rojas considers herself an example for generations to come in her family. As the first to attend college in her family, the pressure is immense, but she is optimistic.

“It’s a privilege to be the first generation. Knowing that you’re the first in your family to change generations that are yet to come, it’s like, ‘Yeah, Miss, you have to go to college,’” Rojas said. “I have some cousins who weren’t even considering college, and right now they’re seeing that we can do it.”

“They don’t even dream to be something higher.”

Almost $1 million in scholarships have been distributed by the Fort Worth chapter of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas since 2019; in the past two years, $85,000 was raised through fundraising events.

Martina Treviño, the scholarship chair at the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, handles applications, interviews and university partnerships. In 2021, the program had 175 applicants with about 130 acceptances. Of the past year’s graduates, all 60 scholarship applicants were awarded funds.

Martina Treviño, scholarship chair at the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, focuses on directing Latinas to financial aid for higher education. Treviño guides mentees through the process of applying for college and helps parents overcome the fear of letting their child go. (Courtesy of Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas)

The program’s board is selective with the young women it accepts; most girls are first-generation college students.

The Latinas in Progress officials guide program participants through the struggle of applying for financial assistance, college applications and breaking the ice with parents who may not trust their child going to college.

“We kind of try to educate the parents a little bit there too, of what to expect for their girls, and we do focus mostly on girls because that’s where the wage gap is,” Treviño said. “They don’t understand that they could be a college president, you know, or that sort of thing, so usually it’s doctors or teachers. They don’t even dream to be something higher.”

Two in 10 Hispanic or Black women experience poverty, according to a 2020 Texas Women’s Foundation report.

Gala Breakout: 

What: ¡Hasta los muertos bailan! 

When: Oct. 29, 2021

Where: River Ranch Stockyards

Why? To raise funds for the Latinas in Progress scholarship program.

Sponsorships Available:

La Catrina: Twenty gala tickets – $10,000

La Cultura: Ten gala tickets – $7,500

El Padrino: Ten gala tickets – $5,000

El Compadre: Ten gala tickets – $2,500

La Familia: Ten gala tickets – $1,600

Exclusive sponsorships:

El Pan de Muerto: $5,000

El Alebrije: $5,000

La Calavera: $5,000

El Altar: $5,000

El Brindis: $5,000To buy tickets, visit the group’s event website.

The report found no women worked in occupations with a median income of $75,000 or higher while 21% of men worked earned a median income higher than $75,000. More than half of women worked in occupations with a median income of $35,000 or less.

“So, we have this giant disparity and we’re trying to close that gap,” Treviño said. “That’s kind of the purpose of this project because a lot of us experience a kind of quasi-discrimination.”

Every fall, the Fort Worth chapter of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas holds a gala or fundraiser event to raise money for scholarships. Sponsors can donate and name scholarships, oftentimes named after dead relatives or loved ones. 

The organization has partnerships with Texas Christian University, the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Wesleyan and more. The program focuses on helping the women avoid the pitfalls of becoming a caretaker for the rest of their lives, Treviño said.

Giving back to the program

“Back then, I was first-generation, and I was also undocumented,” Melissa Martinez, education chair and 2013 graduate of the Latinas in Progress program said. “Being part of Latinas in Progress helped me in finding my route to college.”

Through the Latinas in Progress program, Martinez received a scholarship and attended the University of North Texas in Denton. While attending college, Martinez volunteered with the program.

“Being undocumented, I was having such a hard time when it came to being accepted,” Martinez said. “Whenever we went to the UNT session, I went to the person representing UNT and she helped me a lot.”

Eight years later, Martinez, the education chair for the Fort Worth chapter of Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, is an “outlet of resources” for other young Hispanic women.

Melissa Martinez was a former graduate of the Latinas in Progress program. Now, Martinez works as the chair of education for the program. (Courtesy of Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas)

“I wanted to give back,” Martinez said. “I do realize, and I understand that most of the time these girls don’t even know what questions they need to be asking. Along the way, they’re going to have questions, and I am here to answer those questions.”

Cristian ArguetaSoto is a photojournalist for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact him at cristian.arguetasoto@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...

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