By Jose Antonio Tijerino, president & CEO.
Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF)

As we headed into the Year of the Woman, Alejandra Y. Castillo headed into a new position as Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA USA the way a gritty Dominican pitcher takes the mound in a critical game. Head down, measured gate with a tenacious focus and purposeful determination, she is aware that her team—2.2 million women and girls and 213 local partner organizations across the U.S.—count on her to throw strikes.

Although Castillo will continue to push forward the YWCA’s three-pronged mission of racial justice/civil rights, empowerment/economic advancement, and health/safety, as the first Latina to oversee the 160-year-old organization, she will have a cultural perspective which reflects the needs of over 28 million Latinas in America (total Latino population is about 60 million).

Latinos have accounted for 50 percent of the overall growth in the U.S. since 2000. Currently, one in five women are Latina with one in four girls in public schools. By 2060, Latinas will represent about one third of women.

“The very future of America is tethered to the future of women and girls,” said Castillo. “I understand the importance of leading the YWCA USA at this critical point in our nation’s history. We have a unique opportunity to shape the discussion, advocate for key policy issues and help design innovative programs ensuring women and girls are positioned to leverage new opportunities in a 21st Century society and economy. The time is now, we can’t afford to wait.”

And the Latina community can’t afford to wait. Although Latinas continue to make progress, especially in entrepreneurship, they are behind in high school graduation, college graduation, and are being uninsured. With one in four living in poverty and 50 percent in near-poverty, Latinas make about 56 cents for every dollar a white man makes. In addition, one in three Latinas has experienced domestic abuse. Those aren’t simply statistics, they serve as fuel to the engine that powers Castillo’s drive – where there are challenges, there are opportunities.

“Having been born in Queens to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic, my parents’ experiences, political awareness and work ethic shaped my civic and social consciousness,” stated Castillo. “As an American, I knew early on to serve as a bridge between two countries, two languages, two cultures and two socioeconomic realities.”

As a lifelong New York Mets baseball fan, she’s always ready to take on a challenge.

Castillo earned her master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and then a law degree from the Law School at American University. She was Executive Director of the National Hispanic Bar Association, served as a Senior Policy Advisor during the Clinton administration, was the first Hispanic to oversee the Minority Business Development Agency at the Department of Commerce under former President Obama and leading the YWCA was the next step in her spiritual calling of public service.

“This is the perfect time for Alejandra Castillo to become YWCA USA’s next CEO. We have selected a bold leader who will further our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women,” said Sylvia Hill Fields, YWCA USA national board chair. “Alejandra’s ability to navigate complex systems, develop public-private partnerships, and advocate for women and girls, especially those of color, is exactly what YWCA USA needs as we enter our next chapter of leading systemic social change.”

As a fierce Latina, Castillo has been preparing all her life to put the YWCA “at the forefront of the national discourse,” especially with the #MeToo movement raising the voices of women. Castillo is up to the task and she’s not afraid to pitch inside.

Jose Antonio Tijerino is president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation which focuses on education, workforce development, connectivity, innovative leadership and public awareness in addition to promoting cultural pride and accomplishment.

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