In the Community
Esther Ramirios considers herself pretty lucky. She was raised near the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles and would often play in the gardens. She even played the flute with her elementary school orchestra for several USC annual Dean’s luncheons. It was Esther’s lifelong dream to attend USC.
While both parents—her mother was a home healthcare aid and her father was a steelworker and later a labor union leader—encouraged her and her younger brother to go to college, money was always in short supply. “My parents immigrated to this country in the 60s and 70s,” says Esther. “They weren't professionals, but they worked very hard for what they had.”
Her father’s commitment to education can be summarized in the fact that, after 12 years in the workforce, he went back to school to earn an Associate of Arts degree from L.A. Technical College and then moved on to UCLA to receive his B.S. in Urban Planning. “This was one year before I would graduate,” Esther says. “He used to always tease me, saying ‘Well, I’m sure you’ll have the grades to get in, but how are you going to pay for it?’ I knew it would be up to me to work hard and to find the funds.”
She did. USC is a private university, which means “expensive,” so she worked with her senior advisor in high school to apply for dozens of financial aid opportunities. The Hispanic Scholarship Fund helped her through her freshman and sophomore years and she was able to cobble together several other scholarships that paid for the other years. To pay for her books, she worked summers and at a part-time job throughout her four years as a receptionist for the USC Facilities Department.
In 1997, she graduated with a double major in Journalism and Philosophy. After graduating, she interned at the Los Angeles Times and was then hired by the trade magazine, Minorities In Business. “I’m pretty proud of the fact that at the age of 20, my articles were being published nationally by two prestigious publications,” she says.
Having lived in Los Angeles her entire life, Esther decided it was time for change. So she moved to Lafayette, Indiana, to pursue journalism. Instead, fate intervened and she landed a job in Adult Education and Training, a career move that would prove propitious. When the $4.1 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was passed, federal stimulus funding was made available for workforce development, a field in which Esther was now an accomplished practitioner. “It’s very rewarding,” she says. “I head a training program for healthcare service workers so they can move up the career ladder into better paying jobs.”
Esther is very grateful for the great teachers she had, beginning in a Los Angeles Magnet elementary school, which allowed her to stay with the same Master Teacher—a teacher who teaches teachers—for four years. And, of course, her parents also get lots of credit for her success.
But she admits that being a 1st generation Latina brings cultural baggage, too. “The expectation is that a Latina goes to college to get married and then have children, not to have a career,” Esther says. “Children, especially if you’re the oldest, are also expected to take care of parents. So one is always contributing to their welfare. But they gave me so much, I’m happy and lucky to be able help.”