There’s not a whole lot of drama but there’s a whole lot of no-nonsense to the story of networking-ninja Yai Vargas.
Frankly, this writer doesn’t think success surprises Yai one little bit. That she has worked with Fortune 100 companies to help develop their connection with the Latino community, sits on the Latino Commission on AIDS’ Business Leadership Council and heads her own brainchild, The Latinista (created to inspire and motivate Latina professionals—with chapters in New York, Miami and Madrid) is all part of Yai’s “bad-ass” master plan.
Yai was born in the Dominican Republic in 1983, the second child of Julio and Angela (she has an older brother Roger). The family moved to the United States when she was three-years old.
“My parents immigrated to the U.S. for the same reasons as most—the opportunity for advancement. My mother’s sister was already living in the Washington Heights district of New York (a Dominican enclave) and she was able to sponsor our family, which made the move seamless. So here we were, seven people occupying a two bedroom apartment—pure bliss!”
Both Julio and Angela found work—Julio driving a taxi, while Angela did everything from secretarial to working in a Super Market. Eventually Julio took on with a cousin who was involved in real-estate and things picked up. He was now able to move his family into their own pad in idyllic Ridgefield, New Jersey.
“The biggest difference between Washington Heights and Ridgefield was cultural—there wasn’t a lot of Spanish being spoken in our new neighborhood and I recall my brother and I doing a lot of translating for our parents. That said, I thoroughly embraced our move into the Norman Rockwell like American Dreamscape.”
And while Spanish was spoken in the home Yai’s parent’s fear of their children losing their Latin roots had them shipping the youths off, each summer, to the Dominican Republic.
“On hindsight I completely understand their motives and embrace them. At the time, however, I was bummed. School was out. I was ready to hang-out with my friends and then whoosh—off to D.R.” Yai laughs easily.
To supplement his income Julio took on work with Mitsubishi while mom continued working an assortment of jobs while taking English classes. A bevy of after-school programs allowed Angela the luxury of doing so.
“It was an extremely healthy and giving environment. The few other Hispanic families as well as many of our Anglo neighbors became extended family—often having my brother and I over to their homes after school. It was truly a warm and embracing environment.”
When Yai turned fifteen she got her first summer job as a counselor for younger kids and then at seventeen she became a receptionist with an optometrist.
“After graduating high school I had designs on going to college in Miami. I’d been to Florida as my family had taken us on some vacations to Orlando.”
I realized that talented people are often fearful of asking for what they want. My mission was to empower.
Yai got the “design” part right, only not in Florida. With her mother’s urging that she stay closer to the family, Yai eventually enrolled at FIT (New York City’s vaunted Fashion Institute of Technology).
“I had my sights on a career in graphic design; however, FIT required a portfolio in order to even be considered for that program. They suggested I delay my college ambitions and create a portfolio before re-enrolling, but I wasn’t going for that.”
In Yai’s typical “take-the-bull-by-the-horns” mien, the start-up student asked what degree she could pursue without a portfolio. She settled on Advertising and Marketing.
Manhattan suited Yai quite well and while she still lived at home and continued to work for the optometrist, the sophistication and cosmopolitan joie de vivre of the big city had her both stimulated and motivated.
“FIT offered a wonderful internship program and since I’d sort of absorbed a love of automobiles, especially the high-end type (her father took her to the New York Auto show every March) and since Mercedes Benz had corporate offices near our home in Jersey—I decided to go for it.”
And go for it she did…
Yai started with a cold-call. She was placed with someone in Human Resources and while her resume was slim, she knew the product and she had that unflinching, unfailing self-confidence. Needless to say, she was not only offered an internship but also a modest wage as well!
Yai, always one to expand her resume took a keen interest in public relations and was soon placed in the corporate communications department of Benz. As a result of her newfound position, Yai was immersed in the charity side of the business—perusing the many pitches for money or cars or what-have-you—the philanthropy aspect of the seminal company became an arrow in her quiver.
After a year and a half as an intern/part-time employee, Yai was offered a full-time position (all the while encouraged to finish her education).
The luxe-life kicked into high gear with company retreats to Rhode Island et al. But despite, and perhaps because of these glamorous add-ons, Yai began giving back. She became a mentor of young women with similar backgrounds.
“I realized that talented people are often fearful of asking for what they want. My mission was to empower.”
Recognizing the advantages of her bilingual skill-set, Yai made a bold move, approaching the powers-that-be at Benz and requesting to handle Latino outreach for the high-end company. Sadly, she was rebuffed in her efforts.
Undaunted, Yai hit the web, seeking a more copasetic coupling. She found it with the multi-cultural marketing firm ARCOS Communications.
Fully embracing her go-getter mentality ARCOS turned Yai loose, connecting her to myriad clients (including Pfizer and Prudential, among many others), her task; opening the Latin market to ARCOS burgeoning client book.
In 2010 Yai was hired by New York Life and put in charge of “developing and executing the experiential marketing and recruiting strategy for the multicultural division…”
In 2012 the unstoppable Dominican dynamo started The Latinista (the aforementioned national network of women and Latina professionals invested in professional development and career mobility).
To speak with Yai Vargas is to be engaged in humor, laughter and a no-nonsense kick-butt attitude.
Latinarrific salutes Yai Vargas…
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Kent WallaceSenior Correspondent at LatinarrificKent Wallace has worked in the mainstream media for over 30 years. He has been a journalist, publisher, performer, art critic and marketing strategist. He has written for such magazines as Esquire, Source, Ear, A...