EXPOSITION PARK — Diana Trujillo wanted to become an astronaut and explore space from the time she was 10 years old.
Born in Cali, Columbia, Trujillo left her country at 17 and immigrated to the United States to pursue her dream.
“I was alone and I had no family in America,” she told a crowd of about 900 mostly Latinas at the fourth annual Latina Conference sponsored by City Councilman Curren Price Sept. 28 at the EXPO Center. “I worked three jobs and I did not know any English. I was cleaning houses while I was going to school.”
Trujillo was one of several speakers who shared their stories with the young women attending the conference.
She eventually earned a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland with additional studies at the University of Florida. She also graduated from Miami-Dade Community College and the NASA Academy, eventually reaching her dream of becoming a rocket scientist working for NASA.
Since 2008, Trujillo has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where she contributes to both human and robotic space missions.
Currently, Trujillo is deputy surface phase lead for Mars 2020, NASA’s next generation Mars rover.
“I’m working on my second mission to Mars,” she said. “Our mission is to find out if we are alone in the universe.”
Trujillo outlined several pieces of advice to the audience.
“Know your principles that make you you,” she said. “Know your personal principles that will keep you going.”
“Set a goal, even if it’s ridiculous to somebody else,” she added. “Invest in things to give back to other people. You have to look towards a goal bigger than yourself.
“You cannot go into battle without a game face. Your mom, abuela, your tia — everyone will tell you what to do, but you need to be the biggest cheerleader for yourself.
“Picture yourself doing what you want to do. See it, smell it — see your vision. You have to believe it will happen,” she said.
Another speaker was radio personality Ce Ce Valencia, host of “Cece and Romeo” on 93.5 KDAY.
Valencia is proud that she is the first Latina to lead a morning hip hop radio show in Los Angeles.
Valencia said her upbringing was not easy. She told the audience that she had to remain resilient in the face of adversity.
“My father was a Vietnam vet and was abusive towards my mother,” Valencia said. ”We lived in a trailer in the front yard. I didn’t think I was good enough, but deep down I knew my worth.”
Valencia said that her mother always stressed education.
“My mom said, ‘Get your own money so that you don’t have to depend on anybody else,’” Valencia told the group.
“Latinas are always trying to make everybody happy, but it’s up to you to create your vision and make it come to life,” she said.
Television personality Jacquie Rivera, the 30-year-old daughter of the late singer Jenni Rivera who is featured in NBC Universal’s hit TV show “The Riveras” and “I Love Jenni,” talked about weight loss, composing original songs and motherhood.
She recalled that although her mother was famous, she always made sure that her family grew up in a normal household.
“I went to public schools, but I was grounded a lot,” Rivera said.
She remembers growing up in a close-knit family.
“My mom would make us do chores,” Rivera said. “She told us that we were just like everybody else, even though she was famous. Our whole family was just like any other family. We played music on Saturdays.”
Rivera said the closeness of her family members remains.
“We have disagreements which makes it hard because we have to do it publicly. Our mom always made sure we communicated with each other and no matter the disagreement, we had to fix it. We will never be perfect, but we will always have each other.”
Many fans have noticed Rivera’s new weight loss on her TV show, a feat she worked hard to achieve.
“I recall I was always exhausted,” said Rivera, the mother of three. “I decided to take better care of myself, so I lost weight. I found out that making time for yourself is very important. I used to feel guilty, thinking that I shouldn’t be taking care of myself, but I realized that self-care is very important.”
Rivera said that she also made a lot of changes in her personal life.
“I used to be the type of person where everything had to be perfect,” she said. “But there were days when I said, ‘I just can’t do it anymore’ and I would just have to give it to God.
“I made a lot of decisions for myself, and I transformed myself mentally,” she said. “I believe in myself more.”
Pausing, she said, “I teach my kids that nothing is impossible because I believe that nothing is impossible.”
Rivera said that she hopes to write a book in the near future and wants to inspire others by becoming a voice for truth and hope.
“No matter where you are in life — even if you don’t have any hope, never give up hope,” she advised the audience.
By Shirley Hawkins