A Tribute To Puerto Rican Women I Admire: Virginia Rivera

By the time you begin reading this, you might have started to get the hang of this series

virginia rivera - lola's pov - hiplatina

Photo: Courtesy of Lola Montilla

By the time you begin reading this, you might have started to get the hang of this series. Today I have one of my absolute favorite entrepreneurs and a true inspiration to all women who strives to be successful and still always has fun at the same time. Virginia Rivera, marketing manager for Starbucks Puerto Rico; a feminist, entrepreneur, mother, advocate, and coffee lover, is my inspiration for this week.

As I sat down to talk with Virginia just outside a Starbucks near my school, I began to grow immensely impressed and surprised by her story. See, I’ve known Virginia for years now and I’ve worked by her side and have had intense conversations with her. But she’s one of those people who you thought you knew, yet there is so much more you discover each time you meet. I began to learn more about Virginia’s past to understand her present and to tell her truth. Sometimes you think you know people, but you have no idea what that person went through, goes through, and holds beneath.

Virginia grew up in a house of mostly women, where women did the hard work, the heavy lifting, the cooking, cleaning, and fixing. Due to the Vietnam and the Korean War, her uncles and grandparents were not present and were not functioning members of the family. By growing up in this environment, she was never taught to need a man for anything she had wanted to do.

“I come from a line of ‘solapreneurs;’ I come from a matriarchal family,” she says. “Feminism,” in Virginia’s family, was nurtured by example and her family members who created an environment for women to feel like they would never need a man to solve any of their problems. Her aunts and mother would study with kids, while working, and while also being the head of the house.

As our conversation evolved into the topic of projects and being prepared to take on something new all the time, I see where her strength comes from. That sense of empowerment has defined Virginia’s life and her sense of responsibility in empowering others to do the same. Virginia grew up in an environment where her mother had always supported her work, and her new ideas, therefore she never felt denial or pressure from her family to be something she was not. She learned to use the right labels to define herself and other women: “you are not a ‘rebel;’ you are independent.” Her enthusiasm and fantastic sense of leadership made her a leader in her High School environment, creating a dance group for the females in a school where male sports were the activities that prevailed. Her hard work followed her to her college career, studying dance and choreography over in Chicago. After being a professional dancer for nearly ten years, while expecting her first daughter, she became a chef to create a more flexible schedule to make time for her motherly responsibilities. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, she was hired at Starbucks as a food specialist, later becoming Marketing Manager (and a hell of a BossLady). While marketing, in her case, is something that happened by accident, it’s something she thinks we do naturally.

If the saying is true, and you can’t sell something you don’t believe in, then Virginia will have no problem selling coffee. “ I think I have the best job in the world because I represent a brand that represents me; Starbucks isn’t about coffee it’s about inspiring and nurturing people,” she says.

Her passions although, goes beyond coffee and her daughters. “The day you stop creating is the day you start getting sick, finding excuses and you don’t live your life to your fullest potential,” she adds. Virginia created a female empowerment group for entrepreneurs, to give them the tools to empower others and create. Mujer Emprende began as a project with a close friend, Vanessa Marzan, and later became a movement that has extended beyond Puerto Rico’s coast, with its first chapter on the mainland in Orlando Florida. Virginia is a powerhouse and continues to inspire as the successful woman she is, and who hopes to see other women succeed as well. Her solidarity and hard work have made her the woman she is today and makes her an inspiration for women with a dream, and with a plan to succeed.  But her biggest accomplishment, in her book? “Not because I’m a mother, but because of the women they have become: both of my daughters. And I don’t think that if you’re not a mother you’re not accomplished. I just think that they’re women that feel confident, they’re perfect; they’re women that are self-aware of who they are.”

Four quick questions before you go!

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I am fearless. I am not remorseful.  I am a woman who helps women to live to their fullest capacity.

Who inspires you?
Definitely my mother… and Oprah Winfrey, She opened up a box and brought with her many things. She was black, fat, and a woman.  She took away all the excuses that she could have used in her life not to be successful, and against all odds, she made it and made people want to emulate her.

One piece of advice to Hispanic women.
In our society, mainly machista, Latina women have to give themselves their place and fight for their rights. There’s still a lot to be fought for in order to leave the world in a better condition for our daughters.

What do you want to be legacy?
I would really love that women feel empowered to live the life they want to live. And I want to help them do that.

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entrepreneur Lola's POV Virginia Rivera
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