By Christine Bolaños.
Cecilia Abbott wears many hats: a rich history as an educator in several Catholic schools, a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, passionate philanthropist, loving wife and mother. When her husband Greg Abbott was elected Governor of Texas in 2015 she made history as Texas’ first Hispanic First Lady —- a groundbreaking milestone she hopes all Hispanics, especially Latinas, can be proud of.
She spoke to LATINA Style Magazine about how her Latina roots helped shape the woman she is and equipped her with the tools to set an example for women throughout the Lone Star State.
“As Texans, we are all connected. We are all family,” she says. “This is especially true among Latinos, and something I learned from a very early age.”
Growing up in San Antonio, her extended family included her church, neighborhood and community. That support network and her mother’s example paved the way for a bright future.
“She taught me how to read, and how to care for those in need,” she says. “She didn’t only share those life lessons with my siblings and me — she shared them with all the students she taught for more than 30 years.”
Her parents’ background in education and the importance they placed on education resonated with Mrs. Abbott and resulted in her earning three degrees – a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Theology — from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Today, she serves as a member of the university’s Board of Directors.
Philanthropy has always been a cause close to her heart. Whether it’s sharing a warm smile, a warm meal, a few extra hours or a few extra dollars — she believes service makes a difference one life at a time.
“I have been a Meals on Wheels volunteer for several years, delivering meals to seniors in two Austin communities, and it truly is the highlight of my week,” she says.
For Meals on Wheels volunteers, clients become friends.
She took her passion for community service to the next level by combining the two things she is most passionate about: Texas and philanthropy. After meeting with communities throughout the state, ranging from El Paso to Beaumont and from Lubbock to McAllen and beyond, the concept of Texanthropy was the natural next step.
She explains, “Through Texanthropy, I hope to help inspire more Texans to answer the call to service, to connect Texans with opportunities to volunteer and give back in their own communities or across the state and to celebrate Texans’ giving spirit year-round.”
She believes Texas celebrates all the diverse roles women play. As daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. As wage earners, business owners and caregivers. As women of faith, women of art and women of science.
“All while stretching our arms to give more hugs, our days to do more chores and our dollars to pay more bills,” she says. “But one thing remains constant — in all the roles we play, women are born leaders, and Hispanic women play an important role for the future of Texas.”
She says Texas could be the best place to connect and engage with Hispanics.
“Success in Texas is diverse,” she explains. “Many of the top cities for Hispanic entrepreneurs are here in Texas. I am especially proud that we are number one in the nation for the number of people employed by businesses owned by Hispanic women.”
According to Abbott, businesses owned by Hispanic women in Texas create more jobs than any other state, including New York and California. Texas is second in the nation in number of Latina-owned businesses — a fact backed up by the latest Census data.
“We are committed to become number one,” she says.
Her husband, Governor Greg Abbott made a public commitment to that goal in a guest column he wrote that was published on Forbes.com in September 2015.
She explained there is work to do to ensure greater opportunity before reaching that goal.
“That is why Texas is so committed to unleashing the power of entrepreneurs and innovators to secure the freedom to aspire for more Texas families, and to better, inform and empower our Hispanic communities,” she says. “Texas has a plan to keep our state the best place for Hispanic women to start and own their businesses.”
Today, the governor’s office encourages women to invest in themselves and their businesses.
“Their success doesn’t just affect their employers and their families,” she adds, “It impacts their communities, the entire state and the nation.”
In his column, the governor pointed out that by not imposing personal income tax or corporate income tax, the state cut the business franchise tax by 25 percent. Women can use resources offered by government agencies and private entities through the Governor’s Commission for Women. The governor approved more than $2 million in 2015 to fund a Center for Women in Business at Texas Women’s University in Denton.
Abbott looks forward to making a difference in her role every day. A week before he was scheduled to take the bar exam, Abbott was in an accident that left him partially paralyzed. Their love for one another and faith in God gave them the strength to move forward.
“Greg was so devoted to moving forward that he even returned to work while still wearing a body cast,” she shares.
Together, they are an unstoppable force.
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