“Yo soy Mexicana,” Josefa Rios emphasizes. “It’s important to maintain my culture.”
I first met Josefa a few years ago when we participated in “Courage to Lead,” a transformative leadership retreat where we bonded over both being Latino immigrants. During our lunch, she insists we only speak in Spanish, which I find comforting, especially with the recent events taking place in our country.
“I feel that the connection to our language is nourishing,” she says in our native tongue. “I have to remember where I came from and, besides, I can express myself more freely.” She recently returned from Tlaquepaque in Jalisco, Mexico, where she took her grandchildren to connect with her culture.
Josefa works in the Santa Barbara County Education Office’s Health Linkages program, where the mission is to improve children’s wellbeing by increasing access to preventative health and social services. But what I most admire about this warm-hearted hero is that she co-founded the Santa Barbara County Promotores Network.
The Promotores are a grassroots group of Spanish-speaking volunteers who reach out to caregivers in our county to promote healthy lifestyles, make them aware of available resources, effect policy change, and collaborate with other organizations. Their approach is sensitive to the cultural differences and needs. They provide education on a variety of issues that benefit our community at large, including pregnancy, drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and immigration.
The Promotores began in 2002, when Josefa, Guadalupe Perez, and Maribel Landeros — who were all working for the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics — realized that many issues being brought up by families were not being addressed by any organization. When dealing with patients who had diabetes, for instance, the lack of affordable healthy food, stressful and abusive relationships, parents worried about their teenage children, and lack of housing all came into play.
“The three of us surveyed our community,” Josefa states. “We started knocking on doors. We built our own network of resources. We built a community. We didn’t even have a meeting place.” But they knew how to engage families and they knew how to educate.
They quickly started expanding the scope of their services. “El promotor is the voice of whomever cannot express her or his needs,” Josefa explains. “They’re the bridge between resources — agencies, churches, organizations — and advocates for the needs of our community. A promotor is professional, creative, makes social change, works on social justice, and, most importantly, wants a healthy community with integrity.”
Josefa’s dad was a field worker who migrated to the United States before bringing the family up. There were five of them. She got her visa in Mexicali in 1971, before they moved to Santa Barbara in 1973, when she was 11 years old.
Her dad got a job on a chicken ranch on Old San Marcos Road called Marchando. They rented a small cottage across from the Santa Barbara Airport. She attended La Colina, Goleta Junior High, Dos Pueblos, and then graduated from San Marcos High in 1981.
She was bullied at school, so the late educator Ernesto P. Paredes encouraged her to learn English. “I notice you have problems,” he told her, and then he tutored her for a half-hour each day. “He was a teacher who believed in me,” she says. “He told me I had the power and control. There was nothing wrong with me.”
She was married at 20, got a cosmetology degree at SBCC, and, for 22 years, co-owned the Gemini Hair Company salon on Patterson Avenue. After her kids were grown, she went back to school to become a medical assistant and phlebotomist. “I always loved the medical field,” she divulges. “I wanted to be a nurse, but I had dyslexia.”
Growing up, she’d seen her mother always helping people. “I’ve always loved making a difference,” she shares. “I love a direct connection with people, and seeing how I can be of help.” In 2001, she got a job as a medical assistant at the Neighborhood clinics. Three months later, she became the coordinator for their cancer detection program.
Josefa beams with pride when she speaks about the Promotores Network. “The promotor is not an obstacle, but holds the answers to our community’s needs,” she says. “The promotor is a diamond that we have to polish.”
Josefa Rios answers the Proust Questionnaire in Spanish.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Ah Tengo muchos! Pero un es Frida Kahlo, es un personaje al cual yo me identifico mucho con ella! Una de su frases eran Viva la Vida! Y Viva la Libertad!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Ser una de las tres pioneras, que inició el movimiento y desarrollo de SBC Promotores Network en el condado de Santa Barbara.
What do you like most about your job?
Trabajar con personas que son equipo y te ayuda a crecer personalmente, desarrollar ideas para el beneficio de la comunidad!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Es difícil encontrarlas en palabras! Pero diría en mi opinión son cosas que te permiten ser tú la esencia! Aquellas cosas que te llevan a tu equilibrio y que te dan paz interior.
What is your greatest fear?
Pregunta un poco difícil para contestar! Te diría que la desintegración de la familia! El solo pensar que mi familia se desintegre, me da pavor!!!
Who do you most admire?
Mis Padres! Porqué me ensenaron el significado de los valores y el respecto!
What is your greatest extravagance?
Me gusta viajar y conocer otras cultural de otros países!
What is your current state of mind?
En donde me encuentro en estos momentos de mi vida! En paz conmigo misma!
What is the quality you most like in people?
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
La Deshonestidad, Hipocresía y que mientas!
What do you most value in friends?
La Lealtad! Honestidad! y el Respecto!
What is your most marked characteristic?
Que soy una persona que puedes confiar!
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Listo! Hecho! Vámonos!
Which talent would you most like to have?
Tener la facilidad de escribir sin pensarlo mucho!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Tener más confianza en mí misma!
Where would you most like to live?
Aquí en Santa Barbara! Me encanta vivir en esta Bella ciudad!!!
What is your most treasured possession?
Mi Familia, Mi Trabajo y la Vida!
Who makes you laugh the most?
Mis Nietos! Sophia y Nikolas son muy divertidos
What is your motto?
Amar, ser agradecida y Sonreír!
On what occasion do you lie?
No me gusta Mentir! Prefiero decir la verdad así esa dolores enfrentar el resultado! Es lo mejor!