While most teenagers were enjoying summertime days by the swimming pool and trips to the mall, Laura Perez, her mother and siblings were working 12-14-hour days picking asparagus and zucchini in the scorching heat.
Driven By a Challenge
With her husband no longer in the picture, six mouths to feed and school supplies to purchase for the fall, Laura’s mother had no other choice but to enlist her teenage children in the back-breaking work of the migrant fields.
And, like most young teenagers, Laura relished in every opportunity to express her disdain for the situation.
“I was so angry,” Laura recalled. “And, I was misdirecting all my anger toward my mother. The moment is so vivid in my memory now — as I griped and complained, covered in dirt — telling my mother what a terrible person she was, she looked up from the ground, exhausted, and as a tiny bead of sweat slid off her brow and down her nose, my mother uttered the words that ignited a fire in me to do well in high school.”
“We’ll stop coming to the fields when you all go to college.”
Fueling Her Future
With 91 percent of students at her high school below the poverty line and a high school dropout rate higher than the state average, her mother’s words seemed like an impossible challenge. Dared to dream, Laura dedicated herself to her studies. The first in her family to graduate high school, Laura exceeded the challenge and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.
And, just as her mother promised, once she was accepted to the University of Texas Pan American, she never returned to the migrant fields again. Then, her Toyota journey began.
Through a Toyota-sponsored recruiting event, Hispanic Engineering Science and Technology (HESTEC), she was hired as a co-op for Toyota Motor Manufacturing San Antonio (TMMTX), and immediately got involved with D&I through business partnering groups (BPGs), specifically TODOS, Toyota Organization for the Development of Latinos.
“Participating in multiple BPGs and Toyota-sponsored events, like Latina’s Day, has been truly impactful. I feel my voice can make a difference.” And, it has.
Laura has represented Toyota at numerous speaking engagements, raising awareness and helping change perceptions about migrant workers. As co-chair of TODOS, now at the new Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) headquarters in Plano, Texas, Laura believes she “has a platform to fully express myself, and although ethnicity is certainly one part of diversity and the BPGs, true to The Toyota Way, it’s more about being inclusive. You have the ability to be yourself.”