Power of Wisdom with Dali Rivera
Dali Rivera is an anti-bullying and diversity educator and the creator of the “Diversity and Anti-Bullying Academy.” Through DABA, she helps parents and educators learn how and what to teach children to prevent bullying and stop bullying through interactive workshops, books, workbooks, webinars, and live online classes.
Hear the full episode here.
IN THIS EPISODE:
[00:55] Dali Rivera on what she is most passionate about [02:05] Dali Rivera on her childhood [18:44] Dali Rivera on her experience growing up in Pomona, California [28:13] Dali Rivera on her experience as a woman in the army [41:41] Dali Rivera on how she began “Dali Talks” and DABA [49:48] Dail Rivera on what the power of Passionistas means to her [51:14] Dali Rivera on co-founding Amigos [55:32] Dali Rivera on advice to her younger self
Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following our passions, talk about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today we're talking with Dali Rivera about the power of wisdom. Dali is an anti-bullying and diversity educator and the creator of the “Diversity and Anti-Bullying Academy.” Through DABA, she helps parents and educators learn how and what to teach children to prevent bullying and stop bullying through interactive workshops, books, workbooks, webinars, and live online classes.
So please welcome Dali Rivera.
Dali: Thank you so much for having me.
Passionistas: We're so excited to have you here, Dali. What are you most passionate about?
Dali: Oh man, that's, that's a loaded question for me. I am a person of so many passions, which is like, I think I struggled with in childhood a lot because, you know, people would ask you, you know, “What do you be when you grow up?” I was like, “Uh, a pilot, an astronaut, an attorney, a, you know, a book author, I--” You know. So right now, my passion--one of my many passions--is just really empowering people with the knowledge that I have. Because I learned at an early age--through my mother, actually--I remember her saying to me, “Dali. Listen to old people. They've lived, and they know a lot of stuff that can save you hardships.” And for some reason, that resonated at the time. To this day, I wonder, like, what was happening in my life, because I distinctly remember that, and I remember, I took it seriously. I was like, “Huh. Yeah, I want to avoid some hardships, because I've seen people go through some stuff, and I don't want to go through that.”
Passionistas: Let's talk about your childhood. Tell us where you were born and grew up and your journey to the United States.
Dali: Yeah. So I was born in the beautiful country of Nicaragua in Central America, for those of you who have no idea where it is. It's the largest Central American country, but every time I talk to people about it, they either have never heard of it or don't really know where it is. And we make less than 1% of the population in the United States. I have a feeling that's about to change due to the political atmosphere that's going on right now and so many people coming here to the U.S. and other countries asking for political asylum. But the reason I ended up here is for the same reason people are leaving today, which is the political hostilities, the scarcity of resources. A pretty much Communist regime right now that is cutting access to education, resources, you name it. So my parents--my father came here first. And the intention was for him to just come here, work for a little bit, and then go back to Nicaragua. But my mom was like, “Wait a minute. Why stay here?” You know, generations and generations try their best. And because of the systematic issues going on there, people just cannot thrive. So she said “No, we need to, we need to ask for political asylum,” you know, in the U.S.. And luckily, we got it.
I remember coming at the age of seven. I had just turned seven. And it was just a whole different world. It was, I remember, I remember, my mom was like, “Oh yeah, we're gonna go to the United States.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” And I'm thinking as a kid, I'm like, “Oh, it's like, I don't know, maybe down by the marketplace. Who knows?” I didn't have a concept yet of how large the world was. Actually, I didn't even have a concept of how large a city was. And then when I kind of, when I grasped it, I was in awe. It was like, “Whoa, what? You are saying that what? There’s more land, there's more homes and people and--” You know, I was so darn sheltered. It is crazy now that I think about it. But that's what I remember about my, you know, discovery of the world, and coming to the United States was, it was interesting. There's a thing that we do, because, you know, the country’s mostly Catholic. And while my mom and dad did not raise us to be, like, religious, they never really stuck to a certain religion.
They, well, my mom, my mom always said, “I want you to believe in whatever you want to believe. I don't want you to believe in something that I believe in because I was raised that way.” To this day, I appreciate her for doing that, because let's be honest, most of us do end up believing whatever our parents, you know, teach us. Makes sense. I remember there was a church right across from my home, and there were foreigners that would come and do charity work. And the first time I saw a person, like a white person with blue eyes and blonde hair, was in Nicaragua. To me it was, like, the weirdest thing, because I was like, “Oh, this is so rare.” And you know, and then I came to the U.S., and it's a whole bunch more in Pomona, California, and I was just like, “Woah!” Like, “There's more of them.” And it's funny because I think, I think you hear the stories of, like, the other way around where, you know, it was like, “Oh, I'm White. I've always been in this predominantly White area, and I've never really seen Latinos or Black people or Caribbean people or--” So that's a clear memory. And in Nicaragua, it was very common to see people who were Black or darker than me, you know. Because you know the history and how so many people from Africa have fled to so many countries fleeing slavery. So that was that was not different. To me, that experience was like, “Why don't they speak Spanish? Because they're Black. They speak Spanish in Nicaragua. Why don't they speak Spanish here?” So, yeah, those are my early memories.
Passionistas: You had told us once before about your actual journey from Nicaragua to the United States.
Dali: Oh yeah.
Passionistas: I mean, you were only seven years old, and I think it's important for people to hear what that experience was really like, as a seven-year-old child making that journey. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Dali: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so I remember my mom said we were going to leave for good. And we got on a train, and it seemed like an eternally long journey. From a train to a bus, and then to somebody's home to stay overnight in what I know now was, like, somewhere near the U.S. and Mexico border. The lady was not too happy to have us, and it was my mom, my four sisters. So I was seven. My youngest sister was, I think almost three or something like that, she was very, very little. And it's funny because, you know, when you get older, you realize, “Oh, that's why I remember that. Oh, my gosh.” So my mom dyed my two little daughters’--I mean, sisters’ hair blonde. They were very fair skinned. And I was like, “Why would my mom dye their hair? That's so crazy.” You know, a seven-year-old. Like, “Huh? This is different.” And come to find out that, you know, years later, I realized, “Oh. She wanted them to pass as white for the journey.” So my father had a friend who was Mexican, but he passed, completely passed as white. I mean blue, blue, beautiful eyes, blonde hair, very light-skinned. And I guess my mom was afraid that the U.S. would not allow her into the country.
Although, she had documentation that would let her into the country, and she didn't really, she didn't really understand, I think, the process or realize what those documents she had could do for her, so--she even had a visa to go to Mexico, and she could have flown us instead of making us ride for hours. As a matter of fact, during that train ride, I remember, I tried an apple for the very first time. And she was like, “Oh, here, have an apple.” And, 'cause I was there with her on the train, and I also remember her telling me, “You have to learn English.” So she was telling me, “You have to count one to ten in English.” And I would practice. And I was like, “Why am I doing this?” And I remember taking a bite of the apple and thinking, “Oh my God, this is the nastiest thing I've ever tried. It is so grainy.” So it's funny, like, the things that you remember, right? As a kid. Yeah. So we get to this lady's house. My mom says, you know, “This guy's gonna come get your sisters.” And I didn't really understand what she meant by that. And I didn't understand why, either.
But I guess he crossed them through the border into the United States to my father. And then my mom and I and my other sister, we had to get up at, like, the crack of dawn or something, or, I don't know, maybe it was--no, it had to have been evening time, because I remember it was dark and chilly, very cold. And there was a lady who was also traveling. She was going to cross the border with two little boys. Those little boys were, like, very, very fair skinned. We called them “cheles.” Chele is a slang word for, like, blonde, curly hair. And there was a young man who noticed my mom and this other young woman with kids. And he was like, “Hey, this is not safe. And I notice that you all have kids. Let me stick around with you so that the coyotes--”
A coyote is the person that usually crosses people over the border so that they won't do anything to you. Because you know, we've heard the stories. Women get raped or human trafficked, kids and women abused, all kinds of stuff. So I remember this guy having this big plastic bag, a shopping bag of candy, and I remember overhearing him saying, “Oh, I just bought all this candy for the kids to keep them cool, you know, keep them chill, because they're getting bored, they're tired, they don't want to walk, and maybe they'll, this will bring him a little joy.” So of course, I was like, “Hey, gimme the, hand over the candy.” Seven-year-old. I'm like, “I'm okay, but I'll take the candy.” And we were walking, and it got really, really cold. I mean, that's—like, I remember that so vividly, and I think that to this day, that's probably why I just dislike the cold. I mean 75 degrees or below? Forget it. I'm putting a sweater on. Call me crazy but--I remember it was a desert, and there were supposed to be trees, but there weren't.
There were, like, overgrown bushes, all dried up with no leaves. And then the helicopter was above us with the spotlight looking for people. And I remember, my mom was like, “Oh, hide under this bush.” And I was like, “But it's got no leaves, mom.” You know kids. But I was like, “This makes no sense. Why would I hide them under a tree, a bush that has no leaves?” And of course, you know, we got apprehended. And when we got apprehended, there were all these white vans and these officers. And anybody who was from a certain country, like, they would separate them. So most people were from Mexico. And so I remember the guy--I wanna say his name is Javier--I wish I knew what happened to him, because he was so nice. I mean, just for this stranger to totally like, just, you know, look out for these kids and these two women. But they took him and the lady--because she was apparently from Mexico as well--and the kids in one van. And my mom tells this story--I don't remember, but I remember watching her talk to the officers--and my mom says that they kept asking her, like, “Señora,” you know, “Eres de Mexico?” You know, “Lady, are you from Mexico?” And she was like, “Si, si, si. And I was like, “Why did you say you were from Mexico?” She's like, “Well, ‘cause everybody used to tell everybody, like, just say you're from Mexico. Just say you're from Mexico, because if you get caught, they'll send you back to Mexico instead of your country of origin. And it takes so much longer to just try to cross the border again.”
So she said that she had a gut feeling that she shouldn't say she's from Mexico. She's like, “No, I'm from Nicaragua.” And I guess at the time, people knew that people were fleeing because of, you know, danger and political stuff. You know, people were missing. People would end up dead on the streets, just like right now, what's happening. And my mom, my mom and my dad both had military ties, which is--actually, I forgot to say that. They had people, family members, who were in the military. So they were executing family members, which is mainly the reason why my parents, my mom, she was like, “Oh, no.” And then her brother had been drafted, came back with a whole lot of, like, mental health, like, stuff, because they did horrible things to them and stuff. So as soon as she told the officer that she was from Nicaragua, they were like, “Oh, okay, well, you need to go into this other van. And she said, and she remembered there, she's like, “Oh, my dad, my dad gave me these letters, these two envelopes.” My grandpa was a judge. Local judge, not a big deal judge at all. Just this little town judge. And he had these letters. And she's, my mom says that he said to her, “If you get caught, just show them these letters. They’ll know what to do.” And she gave the letters to the man. He opened them up, read them, and he was like, “Oh, okay, got it.” And that was it. And he's like, “Here, you're going to come with us.” So to this day, we don't know what those letters say. She's like, “I was so naive. I should have read them. I should have asked what was, like--I have no idea what was in them. But whatever it was, I guess it was, like, evidence that she really needed some refuge.
And we were apprehend--we were put in pretty much prison. I mean, people call them “detention centers.” Sounds so much softer, but no, they're prisons. It was huge, huge bays with, oh my gosh, it had to be like, 50 bunks, you know, top and bottom. My mom says she found a wad of $10,000 under a pillow of the bunk bed that she was assigned, and she was so scared, she turned it in. Then I remember getting sick. I had a fever, and the officers wouldn't give my mom any Tylenol or anything, because liabilities. And I remember crying, because my whole body was just hurting. I probably had, like, a bad cold that I was shaking off from that darn cold weather. And it seemed like I was there forever. And then suddenly, like, my dad showed up dressed all in white. So funny. And he came to get us, and I thought we'd been there a whole, like, week or month or who knows? You know, when you're little, the concept of time is different.
So just like three years ago, I was going through my mom's rubble documents, and I found a lot of these INS that--you know, what they called ICE back then. Immigration--was it immigration? Naturally, Naturalization System or, I can't remember. And I found the darn documents. And on it is a receipt of the bond, the bail bond or whatever it's called. And it has a date stamp and everything from, like, when you're apprehended to when you're released. I was there two days. I thought I'd been there forever. Yeah, it was like a small little fee. Because from what I hear now, you pay, like, several thousands to let people out until their hearing. But yeah, that's how we came to the U.S., and we got pretty much political asylum. They were immediately able to work and everything. So when people ask me, “Oh, were you here illegally?” I was like, “It feels like I was, because the journey my mom took was so cray cray, and, like, that's what most people would come here illegally do.” But she was this young mom who didn't know anything on how to get here, and she just went along with the crowd. But come to find out they were always here, you know, with the permission of the U.S. government, which makes sense, because I never--every time they'd say things like “Oh, you know, INS came today and picked up a whole bunch of people.” But they said it was, like, no concern of their own safety or anything, you know? So yeah, that's, that’s the story of how I came to the U.S. in ‘86.
Passionistas: Well, thank you for sharing that. I think it's important, like Nancy said, for people to hear personal stories. It’s one thing you see stories on the news, and you don't know, you'd have no personal connection to it. And it's really good of you to share that, because it's so, so personal. So then you ended up in Pomona, right? Is that what you said, Pomona?
Dali: Yeah, Pomona, California.
Passionistas: So and you, you know, mentioned how few Nicaraguan people there are in the United States. I would imagine most of them are not in Pomona. So what was your experience like as a kid growing up there?
Dali: So I actually ended up living in many different places, from Pomona to Rialto to Ontario to Chino to--yeah, I think that was it. But I moved around so many schools, partly because my father was abusive, very, very abusive, extremely. So there were moments when we had to hide from him, pretty much like, flee, you know. So I'd end up at another school. So it was, it was rough. I'm not going to lie. And then of course, when you're here as an immigrant, the housing situation is not the best. Like for example, the very first apartment that we lived in was really a run-down motel, and they were renting every room as a hotel or as an apartment. And it was just the four of us--well, well, the four of us kids, my mom, and dad--in this one bedroom, one bath motel room. And we ended up in Rialto in this really nice house, but we had to leave there because there was drug dealers in front, the neighbors in front.
And they started messing with us and doing creepy things, like going in our backyards and threatening us and stuff like that, because we, I guess my mom--by then, my mom's brother had already arrived to the U.S. as well, and my dad and my mom's brother noticed what they were doing, and I guess the guys felt threatened. Who knows what else they did? Probably had words, you know. Exchanged words. But we had to leave there. And then we ended up in Ontario in this horrible, horrible neighborhood. It was just like, just something I never experienced in Nicaragua. Like being poor is different than being poor, living in a real, like, horrible, gang-infested area with drugs. You know, in Nicaragua, you're poor, but you're not in danger. You take care of one another. Your whole neighborhood’s like a, you know, family. You look out for one another. Here, it's just different. The culture is so different, and also maybe had to do with the fact that the majority of the Latinos we lived with or among were Mexican, and they have a different, different culture--well, Mexican American for actually most of them. And is, the cultural differences are similar but different.
Yeah, it was just, It was weird. I hated it. Like, for years, I had nightmares into adulthood about that house, stuff that happened, probably because of what happened with like my family, my father and his abuse, plus, like, the stuff that I would hear. Like, right behind my home, there was an alley, and oh man, I would hear women getting beat by who knows? Probably pimps or, like, the husbands, and shootings and fights, and it was just scary. So it was hard to just like, go to sleep and in peace, you know? And luckily we left there when my dad left. I was fourteen, and I was so happy. It was such a, like, a relief to, like, live in a home where you didn't have to walk on eggshells and wonder, “What, what's going to happen today?” You know?
Dali: But at the same time, it was super scary, because we're like, “Oh crap. Where are we going to live?” Because my mom has been repressed all these years, not allowed to work, have friends, have family nearby. So we ended up--through her resourcefulness--in housing, government housing. And it was, I remember her saying it was a very special situation, because there was a long waitlist, and they were aware that it was her with six kids by the time--you know, by that she had two children here with my dad. And so my little brother--and the only boy--was four at the time, and I was, I had just turned fourteen. And we ended up in housing. And it was, it was great, and you know, when I say housing, like, people are like, “Oh, the hood. The projects.” No, no, this was like, it was a nice house, clean, nice neighborhood. It was just super tiny. So when people think the project, they think, like, run down, drugs everywhere, you know, like things—no, it was not like that. I'm sure that there were some people that were into that stuff, but it was not an issue in our neighborhood to, like, always be on guard.
And that, all of that kind of, like, hit me afterwards. You know, the whole, what I've been through with my home life. And in high school, I didn't know it then, but I went through a deep depression. I slept all day, every day, and my mom thought I was on drugs, so she's like, "What’s wrong with you? You’re sleeping all the time!” Lost a lot of weight. And I also fell behind in school. You know, I was just not, I couldn't, I couldn't do life, I guess. And by the time graduation came, I thought so little of myself, because I had fallen behind and couldn't catch up. I thought I was so dumb. I was like, “Oh man, I'm the oldest.” And the pressure in Latino homes is like, “Okay, you're the oldest. You gotta set the example for your kids, and you know, you gotta do something. You gotta help me out too.” Because that's what you do in Latino families: You help out your family. So I didn't know about--what do you call it--financial aid or anything. I know I heard of it. But I didn't--because you know, I was always, like, zoned out. So I saw the "Be all that you can be.”
And I was working at the library in Chino, California at the time. And this beautiful, handsome man in uniform comes in, and I, like, lean over to my coworker and whisper--I mean, this man had, like, bionic ears, because he heard me--and I was like, “Oh, my gosh. I wish, I wonder what it's like to be in the army.” And I had a fascination, like, before I even saw him. And it was like, he heard me, and he made this smooth U-turn in that Class A uniform with those shiny black shoes and came straight to me. He was like, “So, I hear that you want to join the army.” And I was like, “That’s not what I said, but we can talk.” And at seventeen, I signed the contract. It took a lot of convincing of my mom because, you know, she's like, “Oh, no, you're gonna get shot. You're gonna go to war.” I'm like, “Mom, there's nothing going on right now that that's serious.” But yeah. And I became a mechanic in the army, thinking “I'm going to do the rebel girl thing. I'm not going to do a traditional women's job. I want to do something different so I can tell cool stories when I'm old. But you know, I'll try that out and then just change out my job.” And I remember, my recruiter had to, he had to PCS or change duty stations. So his boss took over, and he was not a very nice person. He was a liar. Lied to me about many things.
And he said, “Oh, yeah, go ahead, be a mechanic. You can change out your job easily.” I was like, “Oh, are you sure?” “Yeah, I promise! Just score well in your tests and you'll be okay.” I was like, “Alright, cool.” I get into the army, and I find out that's a lie. I got stuck. I did three years as a mechanic for, so I fixed all the tanks, like M1 Abrams, 113s, personnel carriers, Bradleys, even AVLB, the bridge layers for the Marine Corps, the trucks, the Humvees, the trailers. I learned how to drive every single one of them too, which was really, really cool. But I was so worn out. That job is so, like, round the clock. It never stops. Well, everybody had, like, formation at 6:00 AM, you know, and then we work at 4:30 or 5:00. I was doing rotations of 12-hour shifts. 8 hours off--sometimes less--back on 12, weekends, and I was like, “Oh my gosh. What did I do?” So after the first year, I was burnt out.
Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, and you're listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Dali Rivera. To connect with Dali to discover how she can help you or your child deal with bullying and learn how to communicate in awkward situations, visit DaliTalks.com. Now, here's more of our interview with Dali.
What was your experience like as a woman in the army? So, if you could just talk a little bit about that?
Dali: Oh yeah. Oh, that was unique. That was special. So my buddy and I—Tamer Jenkins, who is still a really good friend--she and I ended up at the same duty station. Our first duty station in South Korea. And I remember our squad leader, Sergeant Fluga--may the Lord be with him, wherever, God bless him.--he was so drunk, he couldn't walk straight when he picked us up from the center where we get picked up at. And he smelled--you could smell it. And I was like, “Wow, this man is in the army, and he's picking us up.” Like, I mean, it was walking, but he takes us to the Bay where we're going to work. And out comes Sergeant Foster--Sergeant First Class Foster--and this old white man, very angry looking with a real black cup of coffee. And he looks at Fluga, and he's like, “Who the F are these women?” And I was like, “What? Uh, what just happened?” And he's like, “These are your soldiers.”
He says, “I don't know who the F these are, but they need to go back home where they belong. Women don't belong in the army.” And they had an exchange of words, ‘cause he was like, “Well, what do you want me to do? They're here. They're yours. I can't do anything,” you know? And TJ, Tamer and I are like, “What the crap?” He's like, “Well fine, fine, but they can't touch any tools. They can clean up after the men.” and I was just furious. I was like, “What the--did he just say--oh heck no.” This is 1997--no, ‘97. Yeah, ‘97. And--no, actually, it was 1998, like February, ‘cause I turned nineteen the third day I was in country, and yeah. And I was just like, “This is crap.” And then luckily, somebody, another person who worked in another section--a woman, this young black female--comes up to me, and she's like, “Hey, you know, you can report this. I'm not telling you what to do. But just so you know, that is an option. You don't have to take that shit.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay, cool. Alright, cool. So, who do I go to?” And I go, and it’s this Lieutenant.
A man. And I tell him, I was like, “Hey, this is what he's doing. He's not letting me work. He's, you know, all I can do is clean up after the guys and clean the female latrines. And it's like, that's not what I signed up for. I’m not going to be somebody's maid.” He was like, "Okay.” So he comes back a few days later. He's like, “Hey, so, he's only got three months left in country, you know? So just ride it out.” And I was furious. I was like, “Are you kidding me? That that's your end, that's your solution? Like, this man is being belligerent--” and he would always say, “These F-in’ females,” and this, you know, stuff like that. So I had a chief who was in charge of our section, Chief Wongus. I'll never forget him. And he heard. He was, he outranked Sergeant First Class Foster, but he's the type where, like, you stay out of sight, you just do the admin, the more executive level stuff. And he needed a driver. Actually, I think he just made that up just to get me out of the shop. But I think he liked that I stood up for myself right away, and he said “I'm going to offer you the position to be a driver, so you don't have to deal with him. And then once he's gone, you can go back to the shop and work.” And he sure did. And he said I almost killed him a few times learning how to drive in those narrow South Korea roads with that wide, wide Humvee. But that's one of my examples.
But you know, coming up the ranks was hard, because I excelled--I got to get myself kudos, because I used to not. Because, you know, you're taught, “You're being arrogant.” You know, “You're being, like, whatever, you're giving yourself too much credit there.” But no, dang it. I did a hell of a good job, and even my peers, the guys--once I started working with them, we would have competitions. TJ and I would always beat them. Because guys, like, lose their temper, and women, we can keep chill and, like, we just are more detail oriented. And we'd always, we'd always win. I was very proud of that. And Chief Wongus would always tell me, like, “You have to take your military education seriously if you want to get promoted.” And I was like, "Okay, cool.” And my mom always said, “Listen to old people,” and he's old, so I should be good. So from there, I went to Fort Irwin. Fort Irwin was hell. I asked for it, too. I can't believe that. I didn't know any better, because I was like, “Oh, no, I'm in South Korea, I need to go back to California, and Fort Irwin is in California.”
And everybody was like, “Are you sure you want that?” Even DOD--Department of the army--I called that number you're supposed to call to talk to your person that has your file, and he was like, “Are you sure you want that? ‘Cause you know, it's in the middle of nowhere.” “I'm good. I'm good. I'm going home.” Man, I should have listened. It was, it was dry, desolate work around the clock. I got promoted. But I also experienced sexual harassment. And when I spoke up, I was, instead of helped, I was moved out of my section. And I went, I got very depressed. Because it really hurts your ego, and it hurts your pride and your--and just, like, it hurts that you’re questioned, your integrity about something so serious like that. And then you feel like a fool, ‘cause you spoke up. And then you're like, “Oh, maybe I did deserve it, because I shouldn't have laughed at that joke. But I was nervous, and I was trying to play it off.” And that's exactly what they used against me.
They said, “Well, you know, we found that he did say all those things about your body, and you laughed it off though, and he joked about this and that, sexual things. And you laughed it off.” It was like, “Yeah, but I was nervous. I didn't know how to react.” And the horrible part, the worst part was that the investigator assigned was a woman, Latina. He was also Latino. And she--I found out later after the investigation was over--she was his drinking buddy and neighbor. So it was like, I never had a chance to get justice. You know? And he outranked me, too. So, so many, so many moving parts there that the military, to this day, I feel like still needs to work on. They've improved, because now they assign a third party that's not related to that command, you know. But, but it's still not, it's not perfect.
And then as far as coming up in the ranks, I made rank really fast, because I remember Chief Wongus, his advice from Fort Irwin when I went to Fort Hood, and I got lucky again. I had Chief Vasquez. And he--by then I was married, and my husband was into, like, rims in his car. And I would drive his car to work sometimes. And he pulls me over to the side one day, and he's like, “Hey, Rivera. What the F are you doing? What is Chino--” my husband, his nickname. “--What’s Chino doing?” He's like, “You need to be smart with your money. You need to invest in a house instead of putting rims on that stupid car, ‘cause it has no appreciation value whatsoever.” I’m like, “But I'm 22, I don't have house money, and I don't know what I'm doing. Like, what would I do with a house? Like, how do I even begin?”
And he, and I said, “Well, I'm going to be moved from Fort Hood eventually.” You know, every two years, you're usually moved. And he said, “What you do is you rent it out, you hire a management company. By the time you retire at twenty-- because you are going to retire at twenty.” He told me--he had my career planned out for me. He's like, “Your house is paid off, and you're all set because you're going to have retirement, you're going to have your mortgage, your mortgage paid off.” So I was like, "Okay.” And it stuck with me. And then next thing I know, I'm looking for a house with my husband, and I find out I have horrible credit. Because I forgotten I had a prepaid calling card in South Korea, and I was that friend that would lend it out to everybody, and they'd pay you back. Lesson learned. But I ended up closing on a brand new construction house right after I turned 24. Yeah. And because of Chief Vasquez, his advice, I didn't give up, because when they were like, “Oh, no, honey, you can only buy, like, $64,000 worth of a house.”
And I was like, “Where the heck am I gonna find--?” I’m like, “That's probably a trailer.” So yeah, and I've owned three homes since. You know, I've rented them out. I've, it's been, it's crazy how some people, they must see something in you. Right? Like, and they give you advice, and they just make that impact on you. He was also the same person who pushed me to get my Sergeant rank and E6, Staff Sergeant. And I was so afraid every time, because I didn't think I was good enough, because I was chosen for really important tasks and projects. And like, I remember 911 happened. I was chosen. My section was chosen to prep a huge part of the First Cavalry divisions, their vehicles, because they were deploying. And we were pending orders to deploy. But our mission at the time was so essential, we needed to prep as many vehicles as we could, get them on the rail trains to take them down to Fort Sam Houston, to get put on--I mean, not Sam Houston. Down in corporate--oh, my gosh, what's it called? Something Island, Padre Island or something like that. Put on the ships to be sent to Kuwait for the war. And it was, it was intense. So many working hours.
I'll never forget it. And I was kind of salty with Chief Vasquez, because when he got selected to get deployed with the team, he didn't choose me. And I wanted to do my part. And I was like, “I don't want to be that person that fell, stayed behind, because then that means I didn't do my part.” And it took many years after I got out when I realized, “Oh, you know, what I did was pretty darn important.” Because at the same time right after that. I was selected to become a drill Sergeant. And I had made E6 by then, too, by the way. So right after I made E6, I got selected to become a drill Sergeant, and every single soldier was being shipped off as soon as they would get to their first duty station to war. So I took my job very seriously, because I was like, “Oh my gosh, I'm looking at this human right now. I don't know what's going to happen to him or her. So I've got to do my best.”
And yeah, that was that was my career journey. But it was a struggle to get promoted, because people would say you're really great, but then when it came to, like, recommending me--they would recommend me personally, like, face to face, but then when it came to like putting it on paper, they were like, “Oh, but you're too young. Oh, but you're just a little girl. You don't know anything yet. You haven't been in the army long enough.” And I pushed and I pushed and I pushed, and I remember my first Sergeant batting for me and Chief Vasquez. And they were like, “Hell, no. You choose her for all these important things, and she makes it happen. So you're going to write her the good evaluations she deserves.” But it all took a lot of self-advocacy, because had I never said, “Hey. You know, I feel like, I feel like they use me for what they want, but then when it comes for the reward part, you know, they want to promote this dumbass over here that doesn't do XYZ. But I'm over here busting my heinie. So what's up?”
And so they were like, “Yeah, you're right. You're right.” And it speaks volumes when your first Sergeant steps in, because he heard through the grapevine, and then he comes and he asks me, and he's like, “Is this true? I'm going to take care of it.” Like, “Oh, shit. They're going to say I went above his head.” But I mean, you know. That's how I ended up--ten years. It was supposed to be three. And it was supposed to be to prove to my mom that I was not a loser, and that I would get a college degree. And I did do college in army. Well, I was--the whole 10 years, I did courses left and right and no degree. So I got out. I got out, and I went straight from beginning to end to my master’s. So long journey, learned a lot. I would, I would do it all over again exactly the same, too.
Passionistas: You are truly a hero. You're really, that's an amazing journey and an amazing story. And we could talk to you about all of that for another hour. But we do want to make sure we touch on your current work and what you're doing now. So we want to jump ahead to when you started “Dali Talks,” And also DABA. So if you want to just tell us a little bit about that and what you're doing now.
Dali: Thank you. Yeah. So I began "Dali Talks LLC” in 2019. Because when my child was five, like, seven years prior, she was bullied. And I remember thinking, “Well, what the heck? This is not high school. It's not supposed to happen this young.” She was bullied by another five-year-old. That five-year-old had two older brothers, ages seven and nine, and they bullied her because she turned down the five-year-old's proposal to be his girlfriend. And the two older brothers felt like he--the five-year-old--had to prove to my daughter that he was man enough, and she had lost a great opportunity. So, and it wasn't just her. They bullied other kids, but they started with her.
So I spoke up, and nothing was being done. And everything I kept hearing was, “Oh, we have to follow protocol. We have to follow the rules. We have to follow guidelines.” And I'm like, “What the heck are these guidelines? Let me see.” And at the time, I was in my master's program. My concentration is social policy and leadership, women and gender studies. So I was already in research mode, and that's exactly what I did. I went to through the school website, and I started pretty much educating myself on, you know, how they are supposed to manage versus what they're doing. And I discovered so much stuff. And I was like, “Oh my gosh. New parents really need to know this.” Because no wonder, when you walk into the school and it says, “No tolerance for bullying or for anything,” but then it still happens over and over and over.
So that's how it all started. And then years later, in 2017, I got laid off for my job. And my husband looks at me, and he's like, “Hey. It's time for you to stop giving away all this information for free.” ‘Cause by then, I'd created so many workshops, and I’d been giving them. And he was like, “You gotta start charging. So I set you up an appointment with. Mr. So and So at the whatever elementary school.” I was like, “Shut up. You gotta be kidding me.” And I freaked out. I prepped my pitch, showed up the next morning. He loved it but didn't want to buy it, which is very common, to this day. And that's how it was really born. But I became official in 2019, and I've been working with schools, and I do one-on-one consultations with parents. I have online programs. And I focus on not just the bullying awareness aspects. I created the “Diversity and Anti Bullying Academy,” which I'm about to rename, actually, ‘cause I don't like the “anti” part.
Because I'm more on the bullying awareness and prevention. And back then, I didn't realize that how people would read into that, you know? So I included diversity, because the fact that this child--this five-year-old--bullied my child has a lot to do with the lack of diversity and knowledge of diversity of, like, not just race or gender, but so many other things. There are so many children who bully--and adults. They bully--and sometimes they don't realize it, sometimes they do, and sometimes they think it's harmless--but all based off of stereotypes, misconceptions, you know, prejudice, things that nobody is really taking the time to discuss with children at a very, very young age because they're too scared. They're like, “Oh, but if I talk to my child about that right now, they're too young, and they might lean into it instead of against it.” But it all depends how you deliver the information, right? So I want to be able to empower parents to know how to speak up to schools, because that was one of the things that I experienced. I just didn't have the right words. And you got to kind of use their own lingo and their own policy to work with, not against them.
And you have to recognize that schools--or any institution--when it comes to the safety of children, they're not against you, they're with you. But if you come at them in a very defensive way, like, “This is your fault. You didn't do this and that and--” They're not going to listen. And you want people to listen to you, ‘cause that's your babies, right? And a lot of people also thank me because the information that I provide them for their kids ends up being something of value for work, because a lot of people experience workplace bullying. As a matter of fact, like, 80-something, 86% of people who quit their jobs is because they're unhappy because of the working, the bullying situations. And I found that very shocking. But of course, kids is my thing. And I always work with the parents so that the children can be educated by the parent, because there--what happens there is, a different level of trust is created when the parents are teaching them, “Hey, this is how you respond to bullying the right way and the powerful way without you getting yourself into more trouble or angering that person more.” Or, “Hey, I got you. I'm going to go talk to so and so.
How do you want me to handle it? What would you like? Because I have my plan, but I want to know what you have.” You know, that just forms this other type of trust, and kids feel safer. Like, “Oh, my mom, my dad, they know what they're doing.” But aside from that, I was working with one-on-one with parents. I work with the institutions. Pretty much any, any organization that wants to buy, say, a package of six or twelve workshops, for me to come in and present these workshops to their community members--staff, teachers, and parents are who I mostly teach. So they brought me in, and I've had the pleasure of working with the resource centers at school districts. Texas Women University, I’ve given PD workshop conferences for Arizona, ASU, PBS programs for teachers and early childhood educators, and I work with a ton of small organizations. So I love doing that.
And, you know, as an entrepreneur, you have your days when you just wanna throw the towel in and be like, “Oh, I'm done. This is exhausting. I can't hear another no again.” I've had many of those moments. But I always get up and I keep going, because I'm like, “No, I can't see myself doing anything else. It's like, it would be like separating my soul from my body.” And I want to be able to just touch lives, just like Chief Wongus, Chief Vasquez touched my life. Like, maybe they didn't know how it would impact me. I mean, look, I've had the home of my dreams. I've had several, you know, I've had travel--not just in military travel, but like, travel. I've had so many experiences, because that opens the door to one thing, opens a door to so many other things. And then my kids have a totally different quality of life and opportunities than what I had. Because certain people chose to say, “Hey. Do this, not that.” They were sharing their knowledge. So I'm going to share my knowledge, so that kids don't have to be bullied. I experienced--that's a whole other talk, how I experienced bullying as an immigrant kid learning English. Which is the other reason why I'm so passionate about it. Because I remember, I remember what that feels like. So yeah, that's why I do what I do. That's my passion right now, one of my many passions.
Passionistas: That's amazing. Yeah, you answered that last question. We were going to ask you, “How did your experience as a young child and someone in the army lead to these things that you're doing now?” And that, it's perfect. It's, you know, it's such a great, great way to tie everything up. What does the power of Passionistas mean to you?
Dali: Oh man. You know, when I hear that word, every time I hear--and I know you said what it means, but maybe it's both. I see it, and it means unity of powerful women coming together. And I always see, like, holding hands and being, like, super poderosas—powerful--you know. And, like, using their own talents for the good of the community. I think that that's, that's what it means to me. And I wish--people that say, “Oh, I have nothing to share.” I'm like, “Yes, you do.” I used to think that, too, I really did. I thought, “I have no value. I'm just a worker bee and--” but then you start looking at what you've been through and what you've learned. You have something in you that somebody else needs. And all you gotta do is just ask, “Hey, would you like me to share my experience, in case it helps you?” It's powerful.
Passionistas: Yeah, it's funny, ‘cause we think of you as a leader. It would never occur to us that you would think of yourself that way, because we met you through Amigos, through Julie, and you're part of this amazing organization that just is such an incredible community and really just such an amazing group of kind of forward-thinking people. So can you talk a little bit about Amigos?
Dali: Oh, Amigos is my home. Or my other home, I should say. You know, as a Nicaragüense--as a Nicaraguan--I grew up kind of isolated, and I did not like that I could not relate to other Latinos. ‘Cause the majority of Latinos around me were Mexican. So I spent years looking for, like, a good Latino hub. I remember even, in high school, I tried to join MECA--the Mexican American and Chicanos Association, I believe it stands for--and I felt so out of place, because they question, like, “Why don't you speak like we do?” Our, you know, our dialect is different. “Why don't you eat spicy food?” Nicaragüenses don't know, eat spicy food. “Why don't you know this song? Why aren't you into corridos?” Not all Latinos are into corridos, you know, the folk type of music. So when I found Amigos during the pandemic in 2020--I think it was December--I found them through Danai, the founder.
And she just happened to say, like, “Hey, I'm starting this thing in Clubhouse. Do you wanna help?” I'm like, “Sure.” And then 39,000 plus members later, like a year, a year later. She says, “Yeah, yeah, you know, you're one of the cofounders.” I'm like, “Come again?” She's like, “Yeah, you're a co-founder.” I’m like, “No, no.” She's like, “No, you are. You realize you are.” I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. Oh, wow.” I was like, “Oh, this is cool.” And all I was doing was pretty much connecting with people from all over the world. Let me tell you. When I talk about teaching people about diversity--because that's so important to me--I mean, I've learned as an adult, especially that these last two years, that Latinos are so much more different than I already knew. And I love it. I mean, I've met Latinos who are Egyptian and Mexican, Argentinian and Lebanese. It's weird, because one of them, he is, he was raised in London, but he's, I think he's Colombian. So it's funny to hear him, his Colombian dialect in Spanish, but then he's speaking English with the British or—like, “What the heck?” It's so weird. Like, but I love it. So we just, we just share as much information as possible, which is like--another thing about, that's the core of what I've been doing since my mom told me, “Share information,” right?
So yeah, so my part of my job is to find speakers and to just help share information about the group and the opportunities. So we share grants. If you go to AmigosMax.com, you can find our newsletter, our schedule of all of the events we have going on there, audio, on audio-based on LinkedIn and on Clubhouse. Hopefully, we'll be having an in-person meet, like, next year, hopefully. But it's been--if you ever feel left out as a Latino, and you need to find a community, we're here for you. That's what I always tell people. Because they've been here for me--I mean, and I've been through some stuff. You know, during the pandemic, we've all been through stuff. And then I had just showed up every day, I was--there was a point to where I was, I was there every single day in the mornings at 10:00 AM on a regular networking that we still do. And I had some really hard days. And I wouldn't share what was going on, but just being there and hearing what everybody is going through and hearing opportunities and stuff like that, it just helps. And there, and it really is true that you just don't know what people are going through, you know? And just be kind. And just offer, offer something of value that you can give, and don't just take. So yeah, I love that group. And I'm so grateful, because I wouldn't have been able to meet you through Julie, who's part of Amigos. And here we are. Right? And it's just amazing. I love it. Full circle.
Passionistas: Yeah, we love the spider web of community that we've all built in these various communities that are now coming together and crossing over, and it's just so exciting. Well, we're coming towards the end of our hour, but we did want to ask you a couple other things. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Dali: Oh man. So, yeah, somebody asked me this actually on Clubhouse with Amigos. And I cried, because I didn't realize how much little Dali needed to hear reassurance. So I would tell her, “You know, everything's going to be okay. Because you're smarter, more powerful, and more resourceful than you think. And, well, it's going to be really rough through the journey. You're going to look back and realize that you actually enjoyed parts of that journey.”
Passionistas: Yeah, that's interesting, isn't it? I mean, I appreciate what you said about being in the army and the fact that you wouldn't change anything, even though it was as hard as it was. It's what makes us who we are, you know?
Dali: And, you know, I used to hear people say that, and I was like, “They're crazy. They're insane.” But now I'm like, “Oh, I get it. I get it.”
Passionistas: Yeah, our mother used to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” And when you're thirteen years old, you do not want to hear that, and you do not believe it. But now, as an adult, it's like, “Oh, yeah, I get it.”
Dali: Yeah. And I just want to say, I really love what you are doing. Because, I mean, and I listen to your podcasts, and you have amazing speakers. So thank you so much for including me on part of your speaker series. But I mean, you're pretty much doing the same thing we are. You're empowering women and you're giving them a platform to share, you know, what they're doing, how they're helping communities. And it is, and that's powerful. And I'm very grateful, ‘cause I have sent people to use, like, “Hey. You know, I'm sure you can find somebody through the Passionistas or Amigos that can help you with XYZ.” Yeah.
Passionistas: Yeah, I think between the two of us, we've got it covered. Whatever you're looking for. But we appreciate you saying that. That means a lot. And you've, we've wanted to have you on for a long time. So we're glad that it worked out.
What is your dream for women in general, and what is the dream for your daughters?
Dali: Oh, man. Okay. What is my dream for women in general? Man, I have many dreams for women. The first one that came to mind is that women discover the power within, because there’s so much potential, and they're not tapping in--myself included. I know that there's more. So yeah. I mean, can you imagine if we all owned, like, what we have within us? I mean, we do so much amazing stuff now. Oof, man. Unlock that, and the world will change. And for my daughters. So many dreams for them. But one of my dreams is that they live, they live a life where they never experience sexual harassment or assault or anything like that. And that is super important to me. I think I've done a pretty good job so far, giving them advice and teaching them, you know, like this and that.
But it's like, it's crazy that that is not just my goal for my kids, but so many women, because it's so prevalent. Because it can be so life-changing, you know? And my other dream is, of course, that they live their life doing something that they love, but also make a living from. Because that used to be a big no-no. Like, “How dare you?” But now, you know, that's changing, and we're recognizing, “Wait a minute. That, that's how the world runs.” I mean, we like cell phones. So somebody likes to make them, and we buy them from them, and we don't shame them for it. We thank them for it. You know? I mean, we might complain about the price, but. But that's what I want my kids to—like, I just, I tell them like, “Look. If somebody's sexually harassing you at work, don't let them hang your job over your head. You tell them, ‘F you,’ and you come home. Mama's got you. Until you got to find another job.” Because there's so many women that, they just put up with stuff, because they know that's their bread and butter, and that's sad. So let's empower the women everywhere, so that they don't have to put up with stuff like that. And so that they can enjoy their life doing something that they love. And make money from it too.
Passionistas: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being with us today. It was such a pleasure. And you are such a powerful woman, and so inspiring. So thank you.
Dali: Thank you so much. You too, ladies. I love you so much. Thank you.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Dali Rivera. To connect with Dali to discover how she can help you or your child deal with bullying and learn how to communicate in awkward situations, visit DaliTalks.com.
And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our worldwide community of women working together to level the playing field for us all.
We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere.
Until then, stay well and stay passionate.