We had the good fortune of connecting with Rosa Valdes and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rosa, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Ever since I was a child, specifically 8 years old, I knew I wanted to go to college. It actually was not even the WANT to go to college and get a higher education, but more so a NEED, that I told myself I had to do. This is one of the earliest moments in my life that I can now identify as a result of my anxiety and internalized trauma.
By this age, with my father passing away three years earlier, we moved two times. My undocumented mother, my 2 sisters, and I, lived in a one-bedroom apartment in South East Los Angeles. My father’s passing left my mother was left stranded on her own, without a high school education, an undocumented status, and unemployed.
Realizing all of this now, I still ask myself the question,‘ how did my mother do it?’. There was no extended family support. If anything, her friends and employer’s willingness to support her, despite her legal status, and government assistance such as Medicaid and welfare, was what got us by.
Even at a young age, I could acknowledge that we were ‘poor.’ Poverty lines, food stamps, ‘free’ lunch tickets, and getting my glasses through Medicaid/doctor’s visits, all helped reinforce this idea early on.
The result of this has been an anxiety disorder that is constantly triggered due to financial instability, poverty, legal status concerns, and acculturation. In addition to this, Latinx individuals are now riddled with generational trauma, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. Knowing I had a mental health disorder from a very young age, but not realizing I could have received help, is what inspires me to do start this business.
Despite it being a NEED, rather than a WANT, I was able to complete my A.A., Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. I am ridiculously proud of having been able to do this all while having depressive episodes, anxiety attacks, and being thousands of miles away from my support systems.
Educated Chola, therefore, is a display of my personal struggles and journey with a mental health disorder. A journey that unfortunately is not unique, but also unspoken about in communities of color.
If just awareness had existed along with the resources for my Mexican mother to get a hold of -I know she would have used them to their fullest extent, as this is how she approached all the problems we face.
Along the way in the beginning through now, in-person events and interactions with individuals on my brand’s social media accounts; has all led me to know that this has been missing all along. I persistently and openly receive messages from individuals feeling comfortable enough to ask me: How do you look for a therapist? How did you do it?, What is it like to take medication? Have you taken this medication?, Did you feel addicted?, etc.
If it’s not a question like these, the validation that this is needed comes in the form of a comment directly sent to me via a message or in-person, about the impact a certain phrase has had for them. Like, the frequent reaction of crying from various customers, when reading the ‘chingate (fuck) imposter syndrome’ sticker,’ as it immediately resonates with them despite their own beliefs of having conquered it. That sticker was created because even with my Master’s degree from NYU, I have constant imposter syndrome that pops up here and there.
This following statement depicts how I have always, ‘functioned’ without realizing it was a result of all the struggles of my upbringing – “The community tends to be very high-functioning,” Alejandre says, referring to the ability to get up, get dressed, go to work, go to school, and satisfy one’s responsibilities and duties throughout the day. But it’s when this individual is alone, she says, that rumination begins. “Whatever they haven’t addressed emotionally comes out when they’re not fulfilling these responsibilities, when they don’t have a to-do list. We saw a lot of that throughout this last year.” (1)
Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Latinx population disproportionately hard. ‘Individuals who were “Hispanic and/or Latino” reported higher rates in all three mental health areas. They reported symptoms of current depression 59% more frequently than non-Hispanic White adults. They also experienced suicidal thoughts/ideation two to four times as much as other demographic groups and increased or newly initiated substance use twice as much.’ (2)
Realizing that the co-vid 19 pandemic, has only exacerbated the mental health issues in our community, leads me to continue daily in sharing my daily mental health struggles in hopes of normalizing the topic for our future. The need is out there for a Latinx mental health awareness brand.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My career was a huge part of why I started Educated Chola. I currently am no longer directly in the non-profit world. I previously was in the field of fundraising (development), and while I learned a lot, it definitely exacerbated my mental health issues. Having been told, ‘all of these kids with their Master’s degrees, are taking the jobs’ by my then supervisor, as she was trying to get out of the job, was insulting and discouraging trying to ‘make it’ as a Latina in the workforce. In addition, I was told my writing was never good enough, so much so, that I even heard the whispers from one of my supervisors at another position, as she sat and spoke about me to another white woman over the phone.
Non-profit life/culture has been really detrimental to my mental health and unfortunately is what is driving these issues in communities of color for those that have ‘made it’. Co-vid 19 finally gave me the kick in the butt to get out of these hyper-stressed/toxic work environments.
As much as I know they are doing good for the surrounding communities, they do not always favor their own employees and with their own employees qualifying for services they offer. Regardless of my NYU Master’s degree, my income did not increase until a year or so before the pandemic, to what my degree should have been paying me this whole time.
Lessons I learned:
If the leadership isn’t changing, nothing is changing.
Do not confide in your supervisor or HR. They are to not be trusted.
Don’t express your thoughts out loud, there are no anonymous ‘surveys’.
If they don’t like something, it’s because of their opinion, not your actual capacity.
I now work as a customer service representative job and work from home. I have a few other side hustles for extra income and work on my business whenever I’m not working my regular 9-5. As an entrepreneur myself, I also try to uplift others and entrepreneurs of color; by working to provide them with diverse and inclusive assistance. This includes assisting BIPOC women of color within the LEEAF Accelerator program and as well via some additional work through one of my side hustle jobs.
I know the stress isn’t gone, but it’s different from the burnout and mental breakdowns caused by my previous non-profit positions. I’d like everyone to know, that you don’t have to do it like every non-person of color is telling you it has to be done. They do not know your struggles and can never truly relate, take their opinions with a grain of salt.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I consider myself a pretty good tour guide, when it comes to Los Angeles, but also, in any place I’ve ever lived. I have had to give tours/sight see with friend’s when they are in town. I base an itinerary off of their personality and the vibe they want. Particularly always being tired, I have lucked out that my friends are some pretty calm people.
If they want some artsiness or hipster vibes, I start with the arts district and go into Little Tokyo. Little Tokyo/Arts District is a good intersection that will allow you to get any kind of meal you’d like. My go-to sushi spot is Tenno Sushi, they have a great happy hour on the weekends. If they don’t want to eat sushi, we have the option of going to Spitz Mediterranean or Wurstkuche for some bratwurst.
For dessert, we can get boba at Milk + T, where you can get a glass jar filled with your boba to-go, Tea Master Matcha Cafe and Green Tea Shop for Matcha soft serve, or go into the arts district for some pie at the Pie Hole or ice cream at Salt And Straw.
In terms of entertainment, we have shopping! We can go to Daiso at the Little Tokyo mall, for a $1.50 shopping spree with some quality products, go bowling at X – Lanes, or have another drink at Barcade across the street, the Little Tokyo museum or Moca Geffen.
Notable bars/breweries in the arts district/Little Tokyo, are the Mermaid bar, Wolf and Crane, Arts District Brewery, Boomtown and Angel City Brewery.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My mom and my younger sister, for going out with me to events and literally lugging around the setup, my older sister that promotes Educated Chola any time that she gets a chance, and the cohort of entrepreneurial women that hype me up on the daily, in particular my friend’s, Beth Aurora, Founder of PAZ, Self-Care Club and Elianne Rodriguez, Technical Assistance Director at LEEAF (Leading for Equity in Entrepreneurship Accelerator and Fellowship).
Other: Tik tok: @educatedchola