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VOL. 131 | NO. 206 | Friday, October 14, 2016

Cervantes Helps Latino Memphians Stay Connected

LANCE WIEDOWER, Special to The Daily News

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Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.

Fabiola Cervantes is proud of her Mexican heritage. At the same time, the public relations and digital content manager at Latino Memphis loves calling the Bluff City home. Her dual heritage makes her a perfect fit to connect and empower Memphis’s 81,000 Latino residents.

“I embrace both sides,” she says. “I was raised here in the South, but I still feel connected to Mexican culture and traditions.”

Cervantes was born in the western Mexico state of Michoacán, one of four children who would eventually find their way to the United States. She arrived in Memphis just in time to start kindergarten. At the time, she and her older brother were the only Latino children in their school.

Fabiola Cervantes (Ziggy Mack)

She says she never felt different. Still, she concedes, it was nice when she got older and there were more Hispanic kids in her class.

“One time, we did this essay, and there was this student who had just arrived from Mexico,” Cervantes recalls. “I explained to him what the assignment was. He wrote it in Spanish, and then I translated it so the teacher could grade it.”

Growing up, Cervantes and her siblings spoke English with friends and at school. But at home, their parents insisted they speak Spanish. 

“I’m thankful they made me stick to it,” she says. “Being bilingual really does open up doors. As a child, you may not see that. You just want to blend in. But holding on to those differences that make you unique and more marketable is important.”

Cervantes’ family actually lived in California before they came to Memphis–but it didn’t stick. Her father quickly realized that he didn’t want his children growing up in California and that Memphis would be a nicer place to raise a family.

Cervantes is glad her father made that choice. She’s been living in Memphis ever since, starting with elementary school in Germantown and continuing to Ridgeway High School. She graduated from the University of Memphis in 2011.

Today, she is so attached to Memphis that she actually gets homesick when she travels.

“I think it’s something in my mind,” she says, laughing. “Just like my father, I think Memphis is a great place to live, a great place to start a family. I love the food and the culture here.” 

At the University of Memphis, Cervantes was still undecided about her career path. She admits to changing her major “a million times.” But conversations with her then-boyfriend, now her husband, led her to focus on broadcast journalism.

She interned with a local TV station and eventually served in various communications roles for community nonprofits. A friend encouraged her to apply for a communications opportunity at Latino Memphis.

“I knew I’d end up in nonprofit,” Cervantes admits, “because of my love of community and my passion to be a resource for people who may not know how to navigate the system. Here I have the opportunity to use my communications skills, whether it’s interviewing clients and sharing their stories, or connecting people with the resources they need.”

Through her journey from Mexico to her current role at Latino Memphis, Cervantes says her parents’ sacrifices made it all possible. Her father is a maintenance technician and her mother, who had been a school principal in Mexico, became a housekeeper in the U.S. Both consistently encouraged her to focus on her education.

“I’m very grateful for their sacrifices,” she said. “My parents worked hard to give something to their kids. They went miles and miles from home so their children would have something.”

Fabiola Cervantes is a graduate of New Memphis’ Embark program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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