Anna Victoria Muñoz grew up as a migrant farmworker picking fruit, packing peaches and attending 16 different schools. Today the 20-year-old senior at The University of Texas-Pan American is preparing to become one of the next generation's Latina leaders.
This summer, Muñoz spent a week in Washington, D.C., as one of 22 members in the 2010 class of Latinas Learning to Lead (LLL) program of the National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI). She is the program's first participant from UTPA.
"By the end of the week we were told we would call one another hermanas. It was true. We had a lot of things in common; we have been through the same things, dealt with the same issues. The whole program is like a big sisterhood," said Muñoz, who is majoring in Mexican-American Studies.
During her stay in D.C., Muñoz was housed at Catholic University of America and said she was kept busy morning to evening. In a session called "Ready, Safe, Drive" by Ford Motor Company, the women learned about driving safety and how to take care of an automobile, from changing the oil to a tire. Another session, titled "A Day in the Life of a Congressional Member," the women role played dealing with issues from different groups as a "congresswoman" running for re-election.
"It was so hard, trying to appease different groups," Muñoz said. "We learned how to be team players. We also learned listening skills. A lot of us can talk but we can't listen."
Muñoz was recommended to attend the program by Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, assistant professor of Modern Languages and Literature at UTPA.
"Anna is one of our most engaged Mexican American Studies students and has a sincere and deep commitment to social justice for the Latina community and migrant farmworkers in particular, which is evident with her participation in the Cosecha Voices project," Alvarez said.
Cosecha Voices is a Modern Languages and Literatures project designed to assist migrant students to document and understand their migrant experience while at the same time informing the public of the migrant experience.
Muñoz has helped organize fundraisers, worked as a facilitator during middle school workshops, and presented her work with Cosecha Voices at local schools and more than six conferences and universities, Alvarez said.
As part of the leadership program, Muñoz is required to develop a community mentoring project for younger Latinas and implement it over the next two years. She is also trying to raise the funds to attend NHLI's Executive Leadership Training Conference to take place Nov. 4-5 in Miami, where she can reconnect with some of her "sisters" she met this summer.
Muñoz, who has already inspired her mother to enroll in school to pursue a business administration degree, hopes to one day be part of a nonprofit organization or work for a university where she can help promote higher education to migrant students.
"A lot of them get lost while working. I used to work in the fields. I know what it is. If I am able to do it, they can do it as well," she said.
Education is the key to growing the next generation of Latina leaders says Cristina Lopez, NHLI's president.
"While half of employed women in this country are in managerial and professional occupations, less than 4 percent of Latinas are in such positions," Lopez said. "The LLL program encourages young Latinas to complete their college education and provides tools to help them become 21st century professionals and change agents in their communities."
The LLL program, which began in 2001, is open to all Latinas 17-22 years of age attending college in the United States. NHLI covers round trip airline travel, room and board, training costs and all classroom materials necessary for the program for the selected participants.
For more information on the program, go to http://www.nhli.org/latinas_lead/lll_program.html.