Discipline — you got to do the work. There are no shortcuts. Social Media tries to convince us that we can be rich and famous in an instant or with no effort, but that is not a realistic expectation. To succeed, we need to take care of whatever we have in front of us, even if it seems little or irrelevant. There is no substitute for doing the work.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Valeria Aloe of Abundancia Consciente.
Born in a small rural town in Argentina, Valeria began her professional career at the age of 18. Being the first one in her family to attend college, she relocated to the capital city of Buenos Aires, where she began working full time while attending Universidad Catolica Argentina, obtaining two undergraduate degrees, in Finance and in Business Administration, with honors.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Valeria held multiple Business Development, Marketing, and Finance positions in 7 countries and 3 languages, in her +20 years of work experience in leading global companies, including Procter & Gamble, Citibank, Reckitt Benckiser, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, and TIAA, among others.
A thought leader in empowering women and minority entrepreneurs and professionals to overcome cultural and personal self-imposed blocks to success, and to achieve their goals with balance, Valeria is the creator of “Abundancia Consciente”. Her work to empower and elevate the Hispanic community, particularly Latinas, has earned her several awards, including “Top 50 Women in Business in NJ in 2020” and “5th most influential Hispanic in NJ in 2021”, and is now the subject of a book that is launching by December 2021 with the support of Georgetown University.
Up until 2020, Valeria served as the Director of Entrepreneurship for the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, where she relaunched the signature Hispanic Entrepreneurship Training Program (HETP) and expanded into a Latina Entrepreneurship Training Series (LETS), turning them into the best small business programs for the Hispanic community in New Jersey and beyond, and generating real, tangible results in increased revenue and contracting opportunities, access to capital, expansion into physical locations, and job creation for +500 women and minority-owned small businesses.
Valeria currently serves as Board member of LUPE Fund, and as Vice President of Latina Surge, non-profits that advocate for Latina equal pay, access to education, and civic engagement.
She holds a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the prestigious Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, degrees in Business Administration and Finance from Universidad Catolica Argentina, and is currently pursuing a Masters in Spiritual Science.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in a small rural town in Argentina, a town of unpaved streets at that time.
My father did not have the opportunity to attend high school, and my mother did, but had no access to College. From a very young age, I remember they would encourage me to become the first one to graduate from College, although they had no certainty as to how our family would afford it.
With their loving support, I excelled at school, but my good grades attracted all sort of bullies during high school. I felt so out of place, that I was counting the days to move to the capital city of Buenos Aires to start College, and in a way, a new life in which doing well would not become a threat or a shame.
I moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 18, worked full time to pay for my education, and graduated with honors and with two College degrees a few years later. I officially became the first female in the history of my family to achieve a College degree, and the first one to pursue a corporate career.
Being the first one was not easy, as my loved ones could not provide guidance as they lacked experience with navigating those systems and places, but yes they provided me as much guidance as they could out of their love, and best wishes for my life. Still, it felt like I was in a constant and stressful trial and error.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
Argentina headed into a major economic crisis in 2001. By then, I had been married for 1 year and working for Procter & Gamble.
The choices were clear. On one end we could move to another Latin American country with Procter & Gamble and with my husband’s job. That choice would probably be Venezuela, where the headquarters for Procter & Gamble Latin America were. The second choice was to pack our bags, the little savings he had in a shoe box (and away from the dangerous and unpredictable Argentinian financial system), and come to the US for a higher education degree.
We went for the second one.
My husband and I studied day and night for our GMAT and TOEFL exams, while working full time as the economy was declining abruptly. We applied for MBA programs at five educational institutions, and were accepted in three. It is then that we decided to attend our MBA at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
We sold absolutely all of our possessions, including some wedding gifts, as we desperately needed cash to afford our trip, housing, and food. We packed all that we could fit in some giant bags, saying good-bye to our loved ones at the airport with no return tickets on hand, on one side, feeling heart-broken to leave our country and our loved ones, and on the other hand, excited for the opportunities ahead.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
When we got to the US, I felt I was in a different planet. First, we landed in JFK dressed up for the South American winter, while temperature in NY was above 85 on that hot July day.
Second, we fitted our big bags in an economy car, the smallest possible one and the only one we could afford, as we were on a budget.
I remember being covered by clothes and towels as we had to disassemble some of the bags, otherwise nothing would fit in that small car. After the security guy at the exit gate of the rental car parking lot yelled “you will get a ticket!”, (because the rear of the car was so packed with stuff that we could not see through the rearview mirror), we drove 4 hours up north to Hanover, New Hampshire, in an almost impossible 90- degree weather, exhausted after an overnight flight preceded by goodbyes and a lot of crying, and covered in clothes and towels.
We had been welcomed by the immigration official with the infamous phrase “you are resident aliens”, as he looked at us with a crooked smile and added “mom and dad are paying for school, aren’t they?”. He had no idea that we had no rich mom and dad paying for our education. We had asked everybody in our extended family for their bank account statements, to convince the university that we had enough for the first year. Still, we barely made it to the number they wanted us to prove. All we had was a big dream and a few savings, and enough fear to keep our mouths shut as the immigration official made fun of us. We had taken huge debt at a super high rate to pay for our studies, but the immigration official wanted to make sure we had the money in the bank, and could not care less about student loans.
Everything about this experience was life-changing, particularly looking for a job after graduation, with a heavy accent, with the pressure to demonstrate that we were smart despite being immigrants, and with two student visas on hand, asking companies to sponsor our H1B1 visas, an almost impossible task as 911 had happened two years earlier.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Sally Jaeger — now Associate Dean at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. I will be forever grateful to this amazing, hard-working, and caring woman.
As we drove into Hanover, New Hampshire, exhausted and sweaty, to discover that the little off campus house that we had rented online was a little more than a shack, with no heat for the extreme winter weather, we drove to campus to see the school’s building for the first time.
We had had no budget for a visit before applying, so we just applied from Argentina trusting we would end up in a good place. Being Dartmouth an Ivy League, we hoped we would find a comfortable and welcoming place to stay during the day, and avoid going to “the shack” (also called “the tent” due to its shape and size), as much as possible. Back then there were no virtual tours, nor many photographs uploaded online. This was 20 years ago.
Sally saw us walking around the building, and warmly, and with a huge smile, asked if we were oncoming students. We said yes, and she proceeded to show us around. It was so heart-warming to be treated decently again, to feel welcome, to feel safe in a new land so far away from our loved ones.
That day the knot I had carried in my stomach softened a little, and I became hopeful that perhaps this had been the right decision to make.
So how are things going today?
I am grateful to have become a citizen, and to be raising two young Americans, in a bi-cultural, bi-lingual family.
I stepped out of my corporate career and opened my own business when I became a mother, as I struggled to balance it all with the family so far away. I am now on a mission to empower women and Hispanics through programs, workshops, and individual coaching, helping them discover and embrace their inner power and wisdom. Bringing together business and practical spirituality, I guide them to self-empower, find their true voice, and take action towards their own dreams.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I embraced my mission to help others believe in themselves and succeed.
With 25 years in business and at least 2 decades studying mindset and personal development tools, I am bringing all my gifts and talents to help others win, and win with balance.
I worked closely with more than 500 Hispanics and women just in the last few years, through educational programs, workshops, and coaching, helping them grow in their careers, expand their businesses, gain access to capital and create jobs for the community.
I also serve as a volunteer in several Boards, including Latina Surge, as a Vice President, where I advocate for wealth creation for women of color, and for LUPE (Latinas United for Political Empowerment), advocating for self-empowerment, access to education via scholarships, and civic engagement.
I am now writing a book, supported by Georgetown University, that studies the cultural, familiar, and personal scripts that have collectively held Latinas back, and that have created division within the very diverse Latino community. In this book I also offer strategies for changing history, through self-awareness, self-empowerment, and assertive action, as Latinos become 30% of the US population by 2050.
I believe that despite some progress, we still have a long way to go in terms of reaching our maximum potential, and bringing our talents and voices — with no fear — to serve the highest good of the full US population. As other population groups open paths for opportunities for Latinos, my mission is to have them work with themselves, to be ready when those opportunities open up, and embrace them with passion and drive.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- First, ensure families are kept together, no matter what. Children trapped in “cages” at the border, without clarity of where their parents are? In this time and age of technology, how is that even possible? And in this time and age where more humanity and compassion are required from leaders, how is this even conceivable?
- Second, be welcoming and provide opportunities to those that have the best intentions at heart: we are not all thieves. Most of us come here to achieve a dream that will in turn, benefit all Americans. As we grow and gain confidence in our ability to contribute the best of ourselves, everybody wins.
- Third, remember that immigrants with no papers still pay taxes. At a minimum, let them have access to health, and particularly, mental health. Because all the trauma immigrants endure may be quite known, but the effect this trauma has on their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, is not being measured enough or not in leaders’ radars.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Education — I was born in rural Argentina, and there are no words to describe the doors that education opened for me, professionally and personally. Education is the first step to success. Read, learn, and have something interesting to talk about. Be interesting to others.
- Discipline — you got to do the work. There are no shortcuts. Social Media tries to convince us that we can be rich and famous in an instant or with no effort, but that is not a realistic expectation. To succeed, we need to take care of whatever we have in front of us, even if it seems little or irrelevant. There is no substitute for doing the work.
- Believe in yourself — reprogram all those limiting beliefs that culture or life made you believe. Learn to reconnect with the person you were born: absolutely joyful, and with endless possibilities ahead. That is still who you are. Tear down the walls and the facade you built to protect yourself.
- Ask for help — you are not alone. You may think you are the only one struggling, but we all do, in one way or the other. Talk to others about what is going on for you, and ask for guidance on how they pivoted. Learn from those who achieved what you want, instead of feeling envy.
- Keep the balance in your life — I ended up in a burnout for working and working and working. It is imperative that we, particularly women, take care of ourselves first before taking care of others. And we must learn to do it with no guilt. We deserve to take the time we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- The future of the US is diverse — as an example, the mode age for Latinos is 11 years old, and the mode for Asian and Blacks is 27. On the other hand, the mode age for whites is…58. The future of the US is definitely diverse. And as a side note, a Latino youth turns 18 every 30 seconds. We need to let that sink in.
- Companies investing in DEI efforts make me feel hopeful — although there still room to give contracts to diverse microbusinesses (these small businesses account for 92% of all businesses in the US). There are efforts in the right direction, but corporations are still shy to invest in the little ones.
- I believe we are walking in the right direction when I see that so many decided to open doors for those of us that were looking for opportunities, and that now we are opening doors for others as well. There is an exponential effect in paying it forward.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Brene Brown — thank you, Brene, for your work around the power of vulnerability. As I learned to connect my heart with my mind, and relaxed myself into the powerful being that I am, my life changed entirely. It took courage, and it took being vulnerable enough as to feel comfortable and safe with sharing my story.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!