A bridge-builder among nations
Victoria opens one of her talks with a photo of her back, displaying an S-curve stitched-over wound following her eight-hour scoliosis surgery. It had required 69 screws and seven units of blood. “My body was swollen, my eyes mere slits, and my face unrecognizable. Yet, I was determined not to cry, amidst the unbearable pain.” She was thirteen years old and faced four years of physical therapy.
She did cry, though not from physical pain. An accidental roommate pulled back her curtain to chat, but Victoria’s hospital gown failed to cover her bottom. The sudden indignity and helplessness upset her more than the relentless pain. For patients like Victoria with IVs, monitors, and a catheter, the gowns were cumbersome and immodest. Following her convalescence, she began concerted research to design a new type of hospital gown.
“I went on to receive first grand in Texas and Oklahoma science fair competitions, meet the Oklahoma Governor, and receive a top award from the U.S. Air Force” for her alternative gown project. She shares that her “greatest reward was providing the gown to family friends who were scheduled for cancer surgeries.”
During that science fair, her family hosted students from the Czech Republic. Victoria writes, “Together we celebrated Fourth of July, sang our national anthems, and played soccer in the Texas sun. Adding each other on Facebook, we stayed connected.” Victoria had transformed suffering, victimization, and humiliation into achievement, enrichment, and empowerment. She became a self-starter with a can-do attitude.
Victoria’s main role models were her family who had suffered poverty and emotional scarring. Her Grandma Sanchez grew up in a small home with a dirt floor in West Texas where her ancestors had lived since before it became a state—which didn’t prevent the harsh racial discrimination they endured. Victoria’s mother believed education would overcome the discrimination and poverty. “My mother worked feverishly to ensure that my two brothers and I made education a cornerstone of our lives,” Victoria says. “Her commitment became my commitment.”
Working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award, she and her mom “conducted educational workshops and seminars assisting girls who were wards-of-the-state with college and career preparation ranging from PSAT, ACT, and SAT training, to scholarship assistance, interview practice and application guidance.” She developed a workbook, a DVD, a presentation, and drives for the girls for clothing, books, and stuffed animals. The program grew to serve three school districts across two states.
Community service remained a priority, as Victoria’s horizons were broadening. “My home is where I learned to become an ambassador, a diplomat to the world, as my family and I welcomed individuals into our home. My house was a center for international hospitality as we worked with local universities and organizations to host students, athletes, and business professionals from around the world.” Food, holiday celebrations, and religious festivals helped form bonds between Victoria and her international guests from France, Japan, Taiwan, China, an Australian student who shared her Vegemite, and the British soccer team with their comical dialects. In return, she shared her own Mexican American heritage. “A lifetime of hosting international students and of service had manifested into my dream of becoming a diplomat.”
Wanting to combine international law, business, and a global political program, she applied to Arizona State University for its W.P. Carey School of Business and Barrett, the Honors College which offers Project Excellence, an opportunity to take graduate level law courses at Sandra Day O’Connor Law School.
Over summers and school breaks, Victoria worked at a golf course in Arkansas, interned at an oil company in Oklahoma where she did everything from processing legal records to greasing oil rigs, waited tables at a restaurant, and interned at a health facility. She shadowed an attorney, a district judge, and a federal judge. She also served as a peer programmer and a student engagement coordinator.
Before and during her years at ASU, she founded and/or presided over numerous organizations, projects, and events. One of her first was Passport to Service, an umbrella organization with over twenty middle school, high school, and college students leading local outreaches that included book, clothing, and toy drives.
She also earned many honors and awards. At ASU, she was named a Pat Tillman Scholar, Gammage Scholar, and McCord Scholar. The Tillman award requires a special class and promotes student led venture projects. Victoria’s project involved workshops in an underprivileged Phoenix high school covering college and career readiness. As a reward for student participation she collected more than 140 prom dresses and suits, plus accessories—enough for the entire junior and senior class. As a Gammage Scholar, she further helped organize several events, including a “prom” for residents of the Arizona Veterans Home in Phoenix to honor them for their service, which included a swing band, corsages, and a photo booth.
As founding president of Global Council of Diplomats (GCD), she worked to create a philanthropic organization devoted to fostering a global mindset in the W.P. Carey School of Business to increase global competitiveness and foster cross-cultural understanding. The organization explored culture, celebrating unique differences and creating a tightly knit international community. “From Ambassador Barrett to hosting the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Middle Eastern etiquette dinners, and a panel of Eastern European professors, GCD expandedthe perspective of members through providing a breadth of engagement activities.” Victoria participated in a Scotland Summer Institute awarded through the US-UK Fulbright Commission. She studied at the Universities of Dundee and Strathclyde during the heated Brexit controversy, and met with BBC representatives, economists, journalists, architects, and politicians. At the conclusion of the five-week program, she addressed the political members at the United States Consulate General Edinburgh. “My dream of serving as a US diplomat was materializing,” she says.
Immediately following, she began a semester in the Czech Republic, welcomed by her former science fair friends. Victoria found that, “in Prague, the restrictions of communism haunted the success of democracy as the Czechs held onto the importance of protecting their national identity from dilution by tourists, immigrants, and refugees.”
For the following summer, Victoria was awarded another ambassadorial program, the Taiwan-United States Sister Relations Alliance (TUSA) Summer Scholarship Program at the National Cheng Kung University Chinese Language Center. There, she says she “felt the pain of the country as they struggled to define themselves despite Chinese dominance, previous Japanese occupation, and the ever-changing role of indigenous tribes.” Yet, she enjoyed the warmth of locals who proclaimed, “We have free speech!” Serving as a “goodwill ambassador” upon her return, Victoria stresses “the importance of immersing oneself into different lifestyles and discovering the why behind culture.”
As a future diplomat, she aims to empower citizens through the strengthening of their voices to help sustain identity. Victoria’s next step will be through her graduate program at the University of Cambridge. Upon completing her master’s, she wants to earn a Juris Doctorate in International Law. “I aim to advocate for citizens’ rights and identity amidst governmental transitions and national conflict, achieving peace through law and diplomacy,” Victoria says. “My professional aspirations are to be a bridge-builder among and within nations.”