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Diana Palomar: First Latina in Chicago as head of community affairs

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Sofi McDowell & Diana Palomar at Elda De La Rosa Atelier

About 10 years ago, I met Diana for the first time. Something I don't think she knows and will find out after reading this interview once published.

At the time, I was working for a non-profit organization where I worked with the community to develop communication campaigns raising awareness about underage drinking. I was just starting off my career and had little to no direction on how my future would look like as an immigrant young girl in a foreign country.

"I am passionate about my family, my work and living my very best life!"

Diana was the guest speaker at one of the organizations' events. My memory is a little hazy as to what she said, but I can clearly remember finding in her a light of inspiration. She portrayed what I always thought success looks like, an inspiring and robust Latina.

Fast forward to today, I had the opportunity to interview the woman that once inspired me. Diana holds an active career of 27 years in community affairs and currently is the vice president of community engagement for ABC7 Chicago.  Her love for helping raise other women, her family, work and living her best life is what she is most passionate about.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy  this feature of Tacones Exitosos and learn more about this inspirational woman, Diana Palomar:  

What’s your favorite film genre and why? All time favorite film?

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE LOVE going to the movies.  And I am up for seeing just about any genre of movie. They can be the big blockbusters with loads of special effects and action, horror, mystery, historical, comedies...and other times they are the small indie films in limited release deep in character development and plot.  I have also enjoyed many a foreign film with subtitles. But no matter what I am seeing - I have to have popcorn!!!!

Where did your love for mentoring young women come from?

My early years working were completely devoid of any female mentors.  That said, what I learned from my first mentor who was my male boss was just how life changing being supportive, encouraging and generous with your time and self, can be for someone else.  What I have learned as a grown a** woman is the responsibility we have as Latinas, as women, to share our life and professional lessons with the younger generation as early on in their professional development as possible. THAT is why I always say “yes” when I get a call or email from a young woman asking if I can meet or speak with them to discuss my career path, etc., or from a more seasoned woman looking at changing paths.  Many times I don’t even know these women, and that never matters to me.

As part of what you do, you have strong ties with many non-profits. Is there any causes you hold close to your heart? why?

I have a strong passion for issues which affect women and girls  so my work serving on the board of the YWCA, and as an emeritus board member for Mujeres Latinas en Accion, fuels my soul.  My other board work serving the National Museum of Mexican Art well represents my Mexican pride, and the importance I put on work that helps to build families and communities is why I serve Metropolitan Family Services so proudly.  Serving in a less formal capacity for a multitude of other organizations gives me the opportunity to be a part of various solutions.

Tell me about your morning routine. What gets you up and going to tackle the day?

I am unapologetically NOT a morning person so I tend to like to start my day without having to rise with the sun and deal with morning traffic.  But I am always motivated to get moving knowing that every day is a blessing and that the day ahead will be a good one. Catching up on the news of the day drinking coffee I make at home out of an actual cup is all the fuel I need!

How did your career begin?

I started my career in community affairs in 1992 as a fluke.  I went for the marketing position at  Prime Cable of Chicago (now Comcast) but it had been filled the day before my meeting with the HR department.  The only open position was in community affairs as a copywriter for the corporate newsletter. Wanted to make a change and wasn’t intimidated by venturing into relatively uncharted career waters.  As with every job I had taken before then, I was always in a space with which I had limited experience. But I also learned that if you are smart you can apply any number of valuable skills you have gleaned over time in a new environment - and be successful.  I wasn’t crazy about that particular job at first but I took it. And it ended up fitting me like a glove and I realized it was exactly the role I was meant to play. Fast forward 27 years and I am blessed to do what I love for the #1 television station in Chicago!

What book is on your nightstand right now?

“Rain of Gold”  by Victor Villasenor and “Becoming” by Michelle Obama (which I loaned to my sister before I could read it so I am way behind the trend here.)

You are in a very fast paced industry. How do you manage stress?

I learned a valuable lesson as it related to managing stress from my parents, from very different perspectives.  My mother, unfortunately, allowed stress and guilt to consume her...and I believe it ultimately did. My father lived a more carefree life, with demons of his own, but he loved life and did whatever he could to enjoy it and while disease took his life he fought ituntil the very end.  I admittedly was a worrier in my younger years but have learned firsthand that stress can kill you, so I choose to embrace the three pillars of the Serenity Prayer...serenity, courage and wisdom. As much as humanly possible.

Let’s say I was straight out of college and looking to pursue a career in journalism, where would I need to start?

I recommend to all soon-to-be grads studying our industry to seek out internships,  access relationships, do your research and be willing to relocate if an opportunity to get “hands on” experience should present itself.

How important are your cultural roots to you?

I am a proud Mexicana.  And while I realize it would be more accurate to apply the hyphenation of “-American” to my self description, I choose not to do so.  My Mexican culture, family traditions, and work ethic have always provided a strong source of “orgullo” for me. Growing up as a Mexican in a predominantly white community it provided some with the fuel to try and demean and hurt me.  But my family and home were always there to comfort me and make me feel loved and proud of what I was no matter what anyone said or did.

Name 3 things you are most proud of.

1. I am proud to be the daughter of a man from Penjamo, Guanajuato who worked as a “brasero” in the farmlands of California, made the United States his new home with a sixth grade education and ended up owning and running the Aragon Ballroom for twenty five years.  

2. I went outside of my comfort zone sharing my story in front of an audience as part of a MexTalks event a few years ago which was a stretch for me because I am basically a very private person despite the fact my work makes me very public.

3. I really am proud of the work I do every day and that being hired to my position in 2001 I set a precedent as the first, and still, only Latina in my role, among any of the other (mainstream) stations in Chicago.

What are some traits you think great leaders possess?

Being a great leader requires integrity, honesty and empathy.  We should never underestimate the importance of treating people with respect but also understanding that is something that is earned.  And as a leader you can’t be afraid to make decisions nor afraid to make mistakes.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

Obstacles for me have just been situations I needed to work through. Except for some early family tragedies and horrific losses which shook me to my core, I can’t say I have ever experienced anything I saw as an obstacle.  Does that make me sound naive?

Biggest inspiration and why?

At the risk of sounding a bit trite, my inspiration comes more from stories of everyday people making a difference in the lives of others through simple acts of kindness.  Reinforcing for me that the smallest of decent acts can make the biggest impact. And I would say my other source of inspiration honestly comes from the people with whom I surround myself. Sister, close friends, co-workers... and a few young women in particular who have come into my life in the last several years.  They inspire me every day and I hope they know that.  I sure try to make sure they do.

...the smallest of decent acts can make the biggest impact".

What are the biggest generational clashes  you see within your industry? Is it hard to work with Millenials?

I think every generation thinks they are the “best” and tends to see the generation(s) that follow as never quite as good or hard-working...blah, blah, blah....

In my industry I have learned to embrace that change is the only constant and that Millennials are an important generation to understand.  They can see things differently which can be very helpful if you take the time to listen and you allow them the courtesy of an open mind. And you might actually learn something.

What advice would you give your 20 something self?

I am not sure if there is any one piece of advice I would give my 20 something self because I am slightly torn between believing that things can happen for a reason and being able to identify opportunities which may present themselves and take full advantage.  I wish I had been wiser about the value of education but left to my own devices I made the decision to forgo invitations from several colleges choosing to get a job instead.  What the  heck was I thinking at 18?!?!?!?  I didn’t see the value in a college education and who knows how much further along I might be had I taken a different path.  But this is where I go back to believing some things happen for a reason…and thank God for my mentor in disguise because without his encouragement and insistence I wouldn’t be doing this interview here, now.  Wait…what was the question?

How do you define success?

I believe success is as much a state of mind as it is a state of being.   Being proud of who you are knowing you are being the best person you can possibly be and doing something with your life to make the world around you better for others.  And having the ability to travel and enjoy life while helping my family. I would say all of that represents success for me.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I love the title of “Tacones Exitosos”!  I think it creatively captures the essence of our Latina sisterhood, our personal and professional experiences much of them lived while wearing our beloved tacones.  And as a woman who LOVES LOVES LOVES my tacones and is in them 12-16 hours a day, getting the job done, I couldn’t be more proud to represent and be part of this series!  Mil gracias!

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