Alejandra Calva was born in Mexico City and grew up in Cuernavaca, the “City of Eternal Spring.” She moved to Pennsylvania when she was 11 and graduated from Pennsbury High School. She graduated from Villanova University with a degree in communications and French. After working in New York City in public relations she moved to Athens in 2013. She earned a Master’s in Social Work and a Master’s of Public Health at the University of Georgia in 2019. She is the coordinator of Lazos Hispanos, a program to facilitate healthcare and social service use among native Spanish speakers in Athens-Clarke County. Alejandra works at Mercy Health Center in Athens, as part of the Whole Person Care Team. She lives with her daughter Anais on the West Side of Athens.
What inspired you or led you to your current career?
I was born in Mexico City, and when I moved to the U.S. with my family over twenty years ago it was pretty significant shift in everything: the culture, not knowing how to access great services, not knowing how to get around. When I graduated college, I started working at a public relations agency that really focused on marketing to the Latino population. It was fun while I was doing it, but ultimately it wasn’t fulfilling enough. I needed to find something that would allow me to give something back to the community. Once in Athens, I started working at the Latin American Studies Institute at UGA where my role was essentially to create connections between the institute, the different Latinx organizations in town and the researchers in the university who were interested in supporting the community. Through that I met a lot of people that were eager to help, but it was never clear how they were helping. Even the organizations didn’t really know where to start. Everybody was offering English classes, but the agencies were complaining that they didn’t have enough people showing up. Yet it seemed like nobody was really taking the time to ask why attendance was low, despite there being a documented need for the classes. That’s when we started a needs assessment of the local Latinx community to understand exactly what was preventing them from accessing or utilizing these services. We found transportation issues (exacerbated by the fact that undocumnted immigrants cannot get a license in Georgia), language barriers, immigration status barriers (some agencies don’t serve individuals that don’t have a social security number), and high cost of services.
It wasn’t enough for me to know what was preventing the community from accessing the services they needed. A group of colleagues and I came up with the idea to launch a community health worker program that would essentially train Latina women to cover that gap, to offer healthcare and also social services, because if a family is unable to access SNAP or food stamps for their children than they might end up only eating fast food and it affects their health. So, while we are thinking all of this, I realized I have no training to actually do this. My career had been in public relations, and yeah I can whip out a really mean press release, but the actual research methods and the theories behind the issues I didn’t have. I was not able to apply for my own grants because I didn’t have the letters behind my name. That is when I decided to go into the Master’s of Social Work and Public Health program to get the training and at the same time launch this community health worker program.
What is your favorite restaurant in Athens, and what do you love there?
I really love the Mexican restaurant at J&J Flea Market, Mi Tierra. It is just the moment you start walking to it it smells like Mexico. The food, and the music, the people talking, down to the tables they have reminds me of Mexico. Everything on the menu is something you will find in Mexico, and it is just like my childhood in every bite. I love it. I try lots of different things there, but I love the huarache, it’s like a tortilla with lots of delicious stuff on it.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?
Despite being born in Mexico, I don’t really know Mexico all that well. So, traveling particularly in the southern border area sounds beautiful, with lush jungles and a lot of archeological sites that I have always really been interested in traveling to. It really speaks to our culture.
What is your favorite movie, or what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theatre?
The first movie I remember seeing was Bambi. In Mexico City there was this big movie theatre that was actually made out to look like a Disney castle. They would show all of the Disney movies there. So, my parents took me to see Bambi, and I remember bawling when the mom died. Just crying, they had to take me out of the movie theatre and I remember that distinctly.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to be honest with myself. To follow where my heart is telling me to go instead of listening to everyone else around me that was trying to tell me where to go. Just listening to myself and being honest about it.
If you could put any message on a billboard, what is the message you would put?
Trust yourself. I think we all know how to be good humans innately. I really believe that, but often, again, because we are listening to what everybody else is telling us, we don’t trust ourselves and that ultimately leads to a lot of conflict interpersonally and also on a larger society level. Just try and trust yourself.
If you could see any band or show, dead or alive, anywhere at any venue, who would it be and where?
Queen. Absolutely. Anywhere. I don’t think it would matter, I would just love to see them. I mean I grew up listening to Queen, my dad is a big fan. I would like to go with him. A big show in a big arena would be magical, but also something on a smaller scale would be cool too.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I see myself here in Athens. I really feel like I have found my home. I feel like it is a place where you can really see an impact of your work and your passion. I would still be working to improve and enhance the well-being of the Latinx community.
What is something interesting about yourself that most people don’t know?
I love power tools. I think if I could have a third career it would be a carpenter, just building things.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home”?
Comfort, community and warmth.