During Hispanic Heritage Month, HOLA leader pays tribute to her father

Soozan Alcaraz says her father’s inspirational story helped propel her to a successful career at Viasat

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Viasat senior program manager Soozan Alcaraz’s father started his life in the United States as a strawberry picker with a third-grade education. By taking a chance and having faith in his own ability, Alberto Alcaraz became the owner of a successful roofing company — a move that allowed him to successfully raise 10 children and retire in comfort.

His path has inspired Soozan throughout her life.

“I don’t feel there’s any limits for me,” she said. “My father didn’t know the language, the business, or the trade, but he ended up with a company so successful he had to keep hiring people to meet the demand. If he can do it, anything is possible.”

Soozan is head of Viasat’s Hispanic/Latino Leadership Alliance (HOLA), an employee resource group that launched in 2015. Like Viasat’s other employee resource groups, the employee-led HOLA supports career advancement for its members, and works to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace.

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and while the pandemic has temporarily sidelined HOLA’s traditional celebrations, Soozan says she’ll keep encouraging others by telling them about people like her father.

“A lot of people need to know they can make it, too,” she said. “And that can happen by seeing other people who look and talk like them, who understand the culture. That’s why groups like HOLA are important.”

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In this family photo, Soozan Alcaraz stands next to her father in the back.

Family first

Part of what makes Latino culture unique is its emphasis on family. Eighty-four percent of Latinos agree that relatives are more important than friends, and that strong family loyalty can influence pivotal life decisions.

“The Latino culture is different in the sense that family comes first,” Soozan said. “So if a family is poor, how can they tell a child, ‘Go to college and don’t worry about the cost?’ It’s not that easy.

“I tell people, look for government assistance and other ways. Don’t worry about the money you’re spending now because you’ll make more than you owe just by getting that education.”

Soozan’s father also exhibited that strong family loyalty. As a young man, Alberto crossed the border daily to pick strawberries for a farmer in Brownsville, TX, returning at night to his family in Mexico. One day, a man pulled up in a truck and asked the workers if any of them could do roofing work.

“My dad said, ‘If you can show me how, I’ll learn it quickly,’” Soozan said. “He didn’t know what the future was going to hold, but he had nothing to lose. He knew he wanted something better, and he took a leap.”

Because of the heat in southern Texas, roofing was a job many weren’t willing to do. But Alberto, who was already accustomed to the heat, took to the work quickly. He also advanced fast, making enough money to move his family to Houston where they became naturalized citizens. He eventually became a roofing contractor and bought the company for which he worked.

“The best decision he ever made was to get on that truck,” Alcaraz said. “Because of that decision, I am afforded a lot of opportunities that otherwise would not have occurred.”

Path to Viasat

Her father’s success enabled Alcaraz to attend college. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in organizational leadership.

Her education, as well as growing up in a large family, helped mold Alcaraz into a natural leader, and led to her position as a Viasat program manager.

“With so many siblings, you learn how to work with people,” she said. “I learned quickly how to navigate personalities, and that you have to make noise to be heard.”

With those childhood tools and her degree in hand, Soozan followed in her dad’s footsteps and left Houston in search of something better.

“I landed a great job as project manager with a software development company,” she said. “Once I plateaued there, I went into the defense industry where my interpersonal and management skills became stronger.”

Soozan started at Viasat in 2008, a contract position initially designed to be temporary.

“It’s been almost 14 years; I have learned so much at Viasat and I continue to grow,” she said. “All of this is because I essentially did what my dad did many years ago — I took a leap of faith which gave me a sense of freedom and the ability to achieve great things.”

National Hispanic Heritage Month began in 1968 as a time to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

For more information, visit National Hispanic Heritage Month.