Is it any wonder, a lass named after a character from a Mexican television novella (in this case “Yesenia” the story “of a beautiful gypsy girl, who lives in a caravan with her mother”), should be born of Dominican roots in New York City’s Washington Heights and suffer through the tragic early loss of her doting father, be shuffled from home to home, relative to relative and yet rise—determined—to not only work for a major corporation (dealing with trillions of dollars) but then create an organization (proudtobelatina.com) and give back, in bunches, to her heritage? This writer thinks not!
In 1972 Yesi was born to father Oscar and mother Mercedes—both had arrived to the United States from the Dominican Republic in the late 1960’s—they arrived married with two sons in tow. The family settled down in the aforementioned Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Two more sons and then Yesi completed the quintet…
“My father was a carpenter in Santo Domingo, my mother was atypical of the times, a woman not allowed a career or even an education—groomed for motherhood. When they moved to New York, their positions were set in stone.”
The daddy’s girls dream existence crashed horribly when Yesi turned five.
“My father had a heart-attack in bed—my mom beside him. She didn’t know until she woke up the following morning. I suspect the event affected her deeply.”
The writer wanted to know, how much a 5-year old could actually recall of a father who had passed while she was at such an early age. Yesi, didn’t blanch!
“I remember my father clearly,” she said. “I recall him smoking his cigars in bed—the aroma, the waft—with me right there beside him. I recall him playing his vinyl records and drinking beer while I sat on his lap. I recall what he would whisper, how he wanted me to achieve great things in life. I was crushed when my papi passed!”
While Mercedes did her best, she never quite came out of the trauma of her husband’s sudden and unexpected death. As a result the family was splintered with Yesi being shuffled to relatives and friends alike.
“About the time I was eleven I was reunited with my mom and my brother, and despite the instability and poor living conditions, the joy of being back together, despite the hardship—that companionship was blessed.”
In order to buffer the painful reality of her existence, Yesi (perhaps mimicking her namesake), immersed herself in reading and writing.
“It was my way of coping, of being able to dream of a better future.”
As a teen, Yesi and her brother began making midnight aluminum can scavenging runs.
I learned right then and there—the harder you work, the more you attain, the happier you become!
“At first it was one or two days a week, however, we quickly figured out that the more we collected the more we earned and our profits purchased cereal, milk, bread and occasionally candy! I learned right then and there—the harder you work, the more you attain, the happier you become!”
And while collecting cans was by no means Yesi’s first job (she’d been a bagger at an 8th Avenue Chelsea market when she was seven). The experience did, nonetheless, ignite her thirst to work.
By the time Yesi turned fourteen she had an “official job,” working at one of the many Jacob Javits food stands. Again, the enterprising youth turned the hourly/economic equation in her favor, putting in as much time as she possible could.
“I was driven. Suddenly I could afford to buy my own clothes, food, school supplies—I could even afford to pay for the field trips which I’d always missed out on because we simply couldn’t afford them.”
At seventeen Yesi became the first in her family to graduate from high school and she was ready for change! She wanted to join the Air Force—for no other reason than to get away. “Frankly, I was afraid of flying!”
Her mother, however, would not sign the paperwork required. Neither would her mother help with the paperwork required to receive financial aid for College.
“My mother, for whatever misplaced reasons, didn’t understand why I wanted to be educated or career oriented. In her eyes that simply wasn’t what a young woman did.”
But there was no stopping Yesi. She enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), where she studied to become an accountant.
“I was working crazy hours at a supermarket, but I managed to pay my way and graduated from BMCC without debt!”
The education afforded Yesi the opportunity to land a “real” job in the corporate world, working as a secretary at Marsh & McLennan. The “gypsy” was now salaried with benefits!
Desiring to further her education Yesi enrolled at Baruch College where she majored in finance with a minor in graphic design. At the same time she snagged a job at Citigroup—somehow managing to juggle both career and education simultaneously.
Love came calling in her second year of college when she met her soon-to-be husband Geraldo (they just celebrated their 17th Anniversary). The pair (both working at Citigroup) had two sons.
With her sons and a husband and a career, Yesi had found what she had lacked and she wasn’t through—not by a long shot!
“It was time to build a career. And gifted with the hard-work mantra of my youth and by building a network of mentors and sponsors I began to climb the corporate ladder.”
In 2010 Yesi created Proud To Be Latina (www.proudtobelatina.com) this is the gift to her heritage I referenced earlier. What is Proud To Be Latina? In its own words:
“Proud To Be Latina was created to help Latinas banish self-doubt and break self-imposed barriers, Proud To Be Latina is a personal and professional development network that educates, empowers and encourages Latinas to rise to their full potential.
“From providing a forum where Latinas can connect, to offering strategies for personal and professional advancement, Proud To Be Latina offers knowledge-based programs to help Latinas reach the highest levels of success and make an impact in their organizations and communities.”
Latinarrific salutes Yesi Morillo-Gual…