What is a Jefa?
The term Jefa refers to a “female boss or leader; a woman in charge.” When thinking of the word Jefa I believe it means more. I believe the world has changed tremendously and definitions evolve over time. Jefa in todays world is to lead by transcending cultural expectations while being intentional about mentoring others, therefore making space for Latina’s everywhere to take on roles that weren’t created with us in mind. It’s in these spaces that we shine the brightest.
As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I started thinking of all the inspirational Latinas in my life who influence their community, shine in their career, and have conquered the obstacles that come with being Latina in a world that doesn’t always see our value. These brave chicas transcend theater, merge corporate and public sectors, and enhance the higher education experience as well as the judicial system. Their influence comes from a long line of brave mujeres who have left their country of origin to pave a new life in America. Their mothers were brave, and they have risen to the challenge to do the same.
How do I know this? These Jefas are beautiful and ponderosas (powerful). They have inspired a movement and they just so happen to be my family. I’m introducing real women, with real lives that are not always perfect. Women who were not buried but rather planted with deep roots. That’s why I admire them most of all. Their stories are of triumph in a world that sexualizes us rather than envisions us in the boardroom. These women have a story that’s rich, deep, and inspiring. Here is just a piece of their journey. For more about them, their movement, and vision I encourage you to follow their social media accounts. Shine bright ladies, shine bright! The following women exemplify the true Jefa spirit in more ways than one.
Clarybel Peguero is one of my favorite primas (cousin) and believe me I have many. Growing up we would spend summers together either in Washington Heights (NYC) or West Palm Beach FL. As an Afro Latina, Clarybel has always stood true to who she is. One thing I admire most about this Jefa is that she is unapologetically herself which allows her to shine in spaces where many of us would not. Her strength has come from being raised by a single mother from the Dominican Republic who taught her to carve a life for herself in spaces where daughters of immigrants rarely enter. She did just that.
“A Jefa is not afraid of transformational change.”
In 2010, Clarybel joined the staff at Duke University where she now serves as the Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement. In her role, she is responsible for overseeing the management of the “volunteer pipeline” which includes identifying, recruiting, and providing training and recognition of alumni volunteers. Clarybel earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University and holds a Masters in Higher Education Administration from the University of South Carolina. In 2014, she successfully defended her dissertation entitled “The re-conceptualization of historically white fraternities and sororities; the black students experience” earning her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Communications from Northeastern University.
When asked how she would define a Jefa, Clarybel shared that “about a year ago the President of Duke University, Richard Brodhead, was asked by alumni “What advice would you give a young person today?” and he answered with certainty and said , “it’s advice I would give anyone…. YOU MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO LIVE.” Those words have had a profound effect on me. To me, Jefas must have the courage to live.
“For the past 9 years, I have worked at Duke University for 8 out those years I served as the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life. Over a year ago, I accepted a new position at Duke and so today I am the Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement at the Duke Alumni Association. I have been in the field of Higher Education for 20 plus years and have worked at some very prestigious institutions including American University, Johns Hopkins, Boston College, and UVA. I have three degrees and I’m proud to say that in 2014, I successfully defended my dissertation where I critically examined racial issues within the Greek community. I am very proud of my professional accomplishments. However, being a true Jefa means knowing who you are and what you value.” She goes on to say ,”A Jefa is someone that believes in people and making sure everyone around her is achieving their best self possible. A jefa is not afriad of transformational change and is determined to be about self-betterment. A jefa knows to never dim her light. A true Jefa gives as much as she has taken from this world.”
Helen was one of my first childhood friends and is also my prima (cousin). We grew up in Washington Heights, NYC and over time she grew into a strong professional in the judicial arena. Helen earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Fordham University and holds a Master’s in Public Administration from John Jay College. Early in her career she was a clerk for superior court while also teaching undergrad students in areas like politcal science and criminal justice. Once her kiddos have “worked on developing their dreams” she hopes to pursue her PhD.
“Jefa’s do what they are supposed to do.”
Helen is not only a Jefa in the courthouse, but she runs a tight ship at “Hacienda Ramos,” where she and her husband raise 3 kids all under the age of 5. Did I mention her girls are twins!! When asked what it means to be a Jefa Helen shared that “over the past year, people constantly say to me I don’t know how you do it all. This question often comes because I have 3 kids, work full-time and have a deployed husband. My answer is and will always be, I am doing what I am supposed to do. Jefa’s do what they are supposed to do. I am not doing anything out of this world. Am I tired? Yes, with 3 kids under five I live a tired life. However, I have healthy, happy children. In addition, I am the healthiest I have been in years.” Helen recently took charge of her weight dropping over 30lbs.
When asked about her marriage Helen shared that “although we don’t have a perfect marriage our marriage is perfect for us.” Running an active tribe of while having a deployed husband Helen says “I tackle what each day brings and leave what has passed is in the past. I deal with the tomorrows when they need to be dealt with.” To learn more about her eating plan, exercise routine and the funny things her little girls say you can find Helen on her Instagram Page.
Laura is my little sis who just so happens to be a super creative chica. She is an actor and singer, but her biggest role at the moment is that of being a new mother to the cutest baby boy. In addition, she recently took on the role a Breastfeeding Counselor in Bronx, NY. She graduated from the Two-Year Conservatory at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting (NY) and has been fulfilling her acting career on both coasts. Laura is currently represented by Plaza 7 Talent Agency and Lil Angels Unlimited. For more information on her latest acting work, visit www.imdb.me/lauraguzman.
“A Jefa empowers other women because she knows that there is power in numbers.”
As an Afro-Latina actress Laura has often experienced type cast roles that do not always represent who she is ethnically. Being Afro-Latina is something she takes pride in and she hopes that as the new wave of Hollywood actors, directors, and produces take over that there will be space to have difficult conversations of how Latinas are diverse in the roles they can take on and their apperance. She hopes to change the narrative of what “typical” Latina roles look like.
As if she’s not busy enough, Laura recently launched her new YouTube Channel where she shares thoughts about her career as an actor, motherhood, curly hair care, and her afro Latina experience. When asked what it means to be a Jefa, Laura notes that “una Jefa is a woman who is unafraid to go after her dreams. A woman who walks in her truth. She empowers other women because she knows that there is power in numbers and we can all win. She knows there are enough seats at the table for us all. She doesn’t compete with anyone but herself.” You can also follow Laura on her Instagram Page.
Jefas remain grounded.
One of the neat things about this series is that I am being intentional about promoting the many wonderful women in my life like my sister Jenny. We grew up listening to hip hop and making up dance routines to free style music. She is a trendsetter and inspires women everywhere she goes. Jenny has also found a away to change the narrative for teens in the community we grew up in by connecting the public and private sector to provide them a stellar education.
Jenny joined Inwood Academy for Leadership from the International Leadership Charter High School (ILCHS). At ILCHS she secured a $17.5M municipal bond financing for a new facility, becoming the first NYC charter school to secure funding through Build NYC. Prior to joining the charter community, Jenny worked in the financial sector for over 14 years. Currently, Jenny is the COO/CFO at Inwood Academy for Leadership in New York where she successfully completed a second bond financing for her Charter school.
She began her Wall Street career in 1997, working at Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc., in the firm’s retail division. In 1999, she joined Siebert Capital Markets, working directly with the managing director and assisting the sales force and traders with equity, fixed income and mutual fund trades. From 2001 to 2009, she was Vice President—promoted from AVP in 2005—of the Institutional Equity Sales and Trading Division and developed and managed institutional relationships at Utendahl Capital Partners, LLC. Jenny graduated Magna Cum Laude and received her BA in Economics from Lehman College. She previously held FINRA Series 7, 24, 55, 63, 65 and NY State Insurance Licenses. Jenny is a Washington Heights native and is married to Zoilo Pichardo. She is the mother of two children, Ethan and Abigail.
Breaking ground for new Charter School she helped secure funding for.
When asked what being a Jefa means to her Jenny shared the following truth: “Being a Jefa is modeling for my team and peers to serve others well. Its to place the needs of the stakeholders first. For me, those stakeholders are the students we serve every day. Its mentoring students in the neighborhood I grew up in. Often times those kids resemble my siblings and I. That is motivation enough to keep going.
Jefa’s remain grounded and teach students that they can do it too. My goal is to lead like Jesus. I am not Jesus in many ways, but I can lead with grace and with an expectation of excellence. Lastly, I hold my team to high standards regardless of the positions because we are all impacting our students lives.” With Jenny at the Helm it’s no surprise that the vision for Inwood Academy for Leadership is “Empowering students in Inwood and Washington Heights to become agents for change through community-focused leadership, character development, and college preparedness.”