This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Hispanic men and women who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross accomplish its humanitarian mission every day. This week, we’d like to highlight Norma Vega, the Chief Strategy and External Relations Officer of the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. Here is a conversation we had with her around Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
This month is a time to celebrate the diversity that has made this country the beacon of hope to the world. As Latinos, we too are diverse and this month allows us to learn about and celebrate that diversity.
What does it mean for you to be Latino and work at the Red Cross?
I’m honored and privileged to serve our community locally in Los Angeles and nationally in various disaster response operations. While we serve all people, I’m so grateful that my ethnicity, language and professional background as a community organizer has enabled me to serve some of the hardest to reach populations across the country.
What inspired you to work at the Red Cross?
I was hired as a consultant to develop a community organizing and engagement strategy to prepare vulnerable communities across Los Angeles County. Subsequently, I joined as staff to assist in the execution of the strategy with a one-year commitment to stay. During that year, I was asked to deploy to North Carolina to assist with outreach to undocumented immigrants during Hurricane Matthew. That experience opened my eyes to the reality of the plight faced by immigrant communities (undocumented or not) during disasters. They don’t trust or know the Red Cross well enough to use our services. It’s been my mission to change that across the country.
What does it mean for you to give back?
It means making a difference. It’s also how I express the gratitude for all the blessings in my life. I grew up as a struggling, undocumented child simply wanting to be safe at school and in my neighborhood. With so much gang violence in my community, I didn’t expect to live past my eighteenth birthday, and celebrating my twenty-first birthday seemed almost like a miracle. Throughout my life and career I had many people who mentored me and believed in me even when I didn’t. So, when I give back, I’m honoring all the headaches I gave my mentors and teachers.
What is one thing you’d tell your 20-year old self?
Pay attention because you’re being prepared and will be tested. You’ll get through this and when you do, you’re going to be a rock star! Don’t look at me that way; trust!
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want the Latino community to trust and get involved with the American Red Cross. I want to see our staff (at all levels) and volunteers reflect our community across the nation. I want all communities to work on the four pillars of resiliency in their communities: preparedness, volunteers, knowing and understanding hazards, and resources.
How would you encourage others to get involved?
The reality is that whether we are ready or not, we are our own first responder. So why not get prepared and trained?