Yesenia Ayala wouldn’t take no for an answer growing up. She refused to accept that just because a tradition was accepted in her Latino culture, it was right.
Her idealism paid off Tuesday, when the 20-year-old sophomore from Grinnell College and 10 other women were honored at the White House for empowering and inspiring their communities.
“When I told my parents that I was going to attend this event, they said, ‘I never imagined one of my kids would ever be close to the White House,’ and I feel like they are starting to view those opportunities that they thought weren’t reachable to me,” Ayala said in an interview. “Now they are starting to see that and they are accepting that, and they’re growing along with me.”
Ayala was chosen from more than 1,000 nominees for recognition by the White House Champions of Change program. She was honored for her work with Al Exito, an Iowa program that mentors middle- and high-school Latino students in the state.
In the strict, traditional home where Ayala grew up, young Latina girls were expected to live at home until marriage — cleaning, cooking and taking care of their younger siblings.
Ayala yearned for more. Despite objections from her parents, who doubted the importance of higher education, she dreamed of attending college.C