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Peña was inspired to get into the business world by her mother, who ran a bakery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.   Mike Jachles/
Peña was inspired to get into the business world by her mother, who ran a bakery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Photo: Mike Jachles.

AARP’s Impactful National Voice

Yvette Peña has been a staple in Corporate America for over two decades, and has now become a valuable voice and advocate for the 50-plus and Latino…

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Yvette Peña is the proud daughter of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. 

Her parents immigrated to the United States in search of the American Dream, or as Pena described, “to really pave the way for their unborn children,” she said.

Growing up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, Peña saw two very prominent values within her family: education and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Her aunts were educators in the Dominican Republic, and she also had family members who owned a factory right in their backyard. 

“My parents really focused on education and doing our best,” Peña said during an interview with AL DÍA. “There was no, ‘I can’t do,’ it was like, ‘No, how can you do it? Let me help you.’”

Peña described her neighborhood growing up in Manhattan as a melting pot. There were a lot of Latinos and African-Americans, and later, a number of Asian families immigrated to the area as well. Her best friend from Catholic school was from Japan, and another was from the Middle East. 

Diversity was even present within her own family.

“That is what I’ve known my entire life,” said Peña, “that not everybody looks like me, not everybody is the same.”

“That is what I’ve known my entire life,” said Peña, “that not everybody looks like me, not everybody is the same.”

She felt fortunate to be able to experience that at an early age. 

“That really made me respect and understand not only the way people look, but their lifestyles and the different cultures that were around me,” she added.

The diverse environment, coupled with the value of her education and the entrepreneurial spirit always stayed with Peña and has been at the heart of every chapter of Peña’s life and career. 

Adventures in the Dominican Republic

Trips to the Dominican Republic were quite profound for Peña as a child, and much different from the city life she had been accustomed to in Manhattan. 

“I just felt very free,” she said about her experiences on the island.

Peña remembers playing in the rain, the mango trees, the fresh avocados and fish, the batido de fresas, walking barefoot in the grass, picking flowers, going to the Botanical Gardens and the beach, along with many other things. 

“It was so different from city life because in Manhattan, I grew up in the brownstone,” she said. 

She was a latchkey kid in New York, and would often come home from school, have multiple locks on the door and stay in until her mother came home from work. But in the Dominican Republic, her uncle would let her and her sibling go out and walk around the block freely.  

“It was just things that you would never do as a city kid in Manhattan,” she said. “And I loved it because it was different.” 

Despite not taking trips to the island since she was a child, each time she is at the beach now, she is reminded of the air, salt and humidity of Santo Domingo. 

Photo Courtesy Yvette Peña
A Business Intrigue 

Peña’s mother didn’t begin working until she and Peña’s father divorced while she was in grammar school. 

She worked several jobs, eventually saving up enough money to open her own bakery, which she owned and worked at for 20 years.

“I saw that entrepreneurial spirit, I saw what it was like to be her own boss, I saw the difficulty and the things that she went through,” said Peña. 

While her mother was running the business, Peña often helped make signs, did some accounting, and translating as her mother was still learning the English language. 

“I was business and marketing oriented,” she said, noting that seeing the drive her mother displayed as a single, divorced woman with two children was an inspiration to her.

Upon enrolling at Baruch College, Peña decided to major in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing and business journalism. 

“When I was in school, I just thought of my mom working in that bakery and all that she went through, and I kind of wanted to be able to be business savvy, to also eventually own my business,” she said. 

“I took another turn, but it was something that was always in my heart.”

Entering Corporate America

The turn Peña is referring to was instead entering Corporate America. 

After graduating from Baruch, Peña’s first job out of college was at Young & Rubicam/The Bravo Group, where she led Hispanic marketing efforts. 

After working there for about seven years, she wanted something different. 

“I wanted to grow,” she said. “I didn’t want to just do Hispanic [marketing], I wanted to be a well-rounded marketer.” 

“I wanted to grow,” she said. “I didn’t want to just do Hispanic [marketing], I wanted to be a well-rounded marketer.” 

An opportunity came for her to move to Chicago and work at Sears, Roebuck and Co. as a brand manager.

Leaving NYC behind — the only town she really ever knew — wasn’t an easy decision, but Peña felt it was what she needed to do to grow as a young professional.

“I knew in my heart that I had to just fly the coop, leave the known for the unknown if I were to grow and that’s really what I did,” said Peña. 

“It was the best decision that I could have because that is how I grew as a businesswoman,” she added. 

Entering into Corporate America brought about challenges, however.

Peña noted two as the distinction of often being the youngest in the room, and the fact she is a woman. 

As a result, she often experienced microaggressions, such as being called ‘kid,’ or being told she was too young to understand certain things because she hadn’t been in those shoes before.

“They would see the outside first and not see what was in my brain, what I could bring to the table,” said Peña.

In addition, she felt that being an Afro-Latina woman meant certain job positions would be harder for her to attain and she’d have to prepare more and work even harder than her white male counterparts. 

However, she remained determined and driven to succeed. 

“I took the challenge,” she said. “I think the more people told me, ‘no,’ the more I prepared, the more I felt compelled.”

“I saw those obstacles and challenges as having to take them and overcome them,” she added. 

Peña held leadership posts at VMLY&R and Sears & Roebuck before coming to AARP  Mike Jachles
Giving Back to the Latino Community

As she’s advanced throughout her career, Peña has also committed to giving back. 

“I always found a way to give back in every job that I was at,” she said. 

Whether it was volunteering, tutoring and reading to children, or working at the Commission on Relations led by then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Peña has made it a mission to make a positive impact on the community, and especially the Latino community. 

Much of that is rooted in the obstacles she watched her mother face by often not having the support system she needed as she was working towards her goals. 

“I always wanted to help Latinos,” she said. “Language barriers were always big, racism was big. And so I felt compelled.”

The yearning to give back has been part of her DNA.

“It’s what my parents and my aunts instilled in me and all my family members,” she said. “Not just have Yvette grow, but to give back and help people be empowered.”

A Voice for the 50-Plus Population

In 2016, Peña joined AARP, where she is currently the Vice President of Hispanic/Latino Audience Strategy in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“The main goal for us at AARP is to empower people 50-plus,” said Peña, “to choose how to live as they age.”

“That is what I do everyday, but with a focus on the Latino community... I really make sure to position AARP as a wise friend and a fierce defender,” she added. 

Peña does so by providing crucial information and resources in both English and Spanish, not only the 50-plus population, but their families.

AARP is the largest non-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization in the U.S. dedicated to this mission, with nearly 38 million members and offices in every state, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The pillars that we focus on at AARP,” said Peña, “almost everything can be bucketed in health, wealth and happiness.”

“If you live without salud, dinero y amor, what do you have?” she asked. 

“If you live without salud, dinero y amor, what do you have?” she asked. 

Since the pandemic hit, AARP has been a critical voice in ensuring bills were passed in Congress that function to ensure the older population receives the help they need. 

“We are advocates, and as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, we have a very loud voice,” said Peña. 

With each initiative and endeavor, Peña is motivated to continue finding ways to connect with and benefit the Latino community. 

Some of the areas include caregiving, finances, and brain health, areas where Latinos and other people of color are often the most disproportionately impacted. 

“That’s the beauty of this work, that it really touches lives... and I believe that it’s not just one life, it touches a household,” she said.

Hispanic Pride

For Peña, Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated every day. 

“When I look at myself in the mirror, I know where I came from, I know where my ancestors came from, I celebrate my diversity and I celebrate the family that I’ve had,” she said. 

In addition, Peña said being named a 2021 AL DÍA Archetype is an honor and celebration of not only her, but also the ancestors who helped pave the way. 

Her goal now is also to pay it forward.

“I just think back of all those who came before me, and as I’m celebrated, I want to do the same. I want to continue paving that way,” she said. 

“To be honored is always very humbling and it just makes me stop and reflect on what I’ve done, where I’ve been and where I still need to go.” 

For the next generation of future Hispanic archetypes, Peña would advise them to work hard and not allow anyone to stop them from achieving their dreams. 

She also stressed the importance of mentorship and not being afraid to ask for help in creating a successful career. 

“The power of mentors and sponsors, for me, have been critical in my career. I would not be here without them,” she said, crediting her mother and aunts as her first mentors. 

With the amount of information that is available, Peña feels it is important to reach out, talk to people and find someone who can lend a helping hand.

“Build that network, believe in yourself and keep reaching for the stars, because we have to start somewhere,” she said.

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