As children we are told, “we can be whatever we want to be when we grow up.” For Tricia Jimenez, that saying did not go on deaf ears.
“It’s funny because I wanted to be a pilot since I was 8-years-old,” Jimenez said. She spoke about taking trips with family aboard airliners and, specifically, one moment that would forever change her life. Open Cockpit Policy allowed for visits to the cockpit. Jimenez, who is a middle child (two sisters and a brother) recalls when her brother was asked if he would like to visit. He said no. Although she was not initially asked, she took the initiative and said she did.
Jimenez, born in Jalostotitlan, Jalisco, arrived in the United States when she was just six-months-old. Raised in downtown Denver, her parents still live in her childhood home. Jimenez, along with her siblings, attended West High School and she graduated in 1990. She graduated from Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1994 from the aviation program.
Given the opportunity to earn scholarship money is a godsend to many students who are setting their sites on pursuing a higher education. While there are several scholarship organizations out there ready to help student fulfill that dream, one in particular fits that bill. The Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF) has been around since 1949 acknowledging the many Latino students who have shown nothing less than excellence. Among those students was Jimenez. Recognizing that the cost of pursuing an education that would one day lead her to be a pilot was not cheap and would place a financial burden on her family, she turned to LAEF. She said that the scholarship money she received, from 1990-1994, “was ultimately very beneficial.” Though she did incur debt to pursue her goal, she said, “It was all worth it.”
“You work so hard to make it to the majors,” said Jimenez about being a pilot. “But once you get to the majors it’s like winning the Lotto. I was, in other words, ecstatic.” Jimenez flies a Boeing 7378000 and said that working for American Airlines, for 13 years now, has been “excellent.” Jimenez shared that there are 11,500 American Airlines pilots, of which 210 are female and only two female Hispanics.
What for some would signify a drawback, Jimenez sees as a challenge to take on. “I am pretty proud because we have to work harder and prove that we are there not because of the quota, but because we have the qualifications. It’s really an honor to represent my race,” she said.
Being a pilot comes with many rewards, but also obstacles that must be overcome. The path isn’t completely easy. Still, Jimenez took the bull by the horns and kept moving forward. “There were barriers of being looked down upon because you’re a female and Hispanic. I didn’t let it get me down,” she said, “because that stuff made me stronger and more motivated.” As for those students who think that they cannot overcome their own obstacles, Jimenez said, “There isn’t an option. You go for what you want. You prove to yourself, first of all, and the rest that you can do it.”
Jimenez also remembered a former West High School counselor who, after she asked what she needed to do to become a pilot, told her: “Honey you’ll never make it because you have two things against you — you are a female and you are Hispanic.” Not deterred, Jimenez picked up the Yellow Pages and contacted a flight school. She was told to take math and science classes, which Jimenez excelled in.
“It’s a job that lets you see the world …” said Jimenez who always imagined herself flying the skies. For her, being a pilot allows her, as she put it, to be “more worldly.” It’s a job where she gets to appreciate people and their culture. Jimenez recalled her most memorable experience when she first flew a big jet, 727. “Just to feel the power of the engine … and you are in full control,” she said.
Dreaming as a child that one day she would pilot an airplane, Jimenez, too, shares her dreams for her own children. She is the mother of Mia, 7 ½, and Trevor, 4. For her children she sets no limits to their dreams. “You can be whoever you want to be and don’t let anyone tell you different,” she tells them. “I will support anything that they choose.”
To this year’s scholarship recipients Jimenez said, “Be grateful for being able to obtain the scholarship because it is very competitive and use it to your advantage to further your education and, really, your life.”
La Voz asked what message she would like to share with our readers, Jimenez responded, “I want them to all know that the foundation to our success is our parents.” The proud daughter of a former migrant worker and construction worker father and security guard mother, Jimenez also pointed to education as a reference point toward making achievements. “If we want to do well in this world, we need to succeed in education.” You don’t have to be rich to succeed, you just have to have drive. That’s why LAEF is an awesome asset.”