EWL STAR Lina Suarez
Political Asylum Led to Lina’s Unlikely, Yet Rewarding Career
By Bette Price
Graduated, May 2016
Texas Woman’s University
Degree: Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising
Just having an organization (EWL) that supports them no matter what—that’s important.”
At the age of twelve, Lina Suarez came to America for political asylum with her parents, brother and sister, fleeing Columbia because they were in danger in her birth country. “I went to middle school and high school in Atlanta,” Lina said, explaining that it was a period of time that was quite difficult for her because she didn’t know much English. And to makes things even more difficult, her parents eventually divorced and her father returned to Columbia, leaving Lina to be raised by a single, working Mom of three.
“In the beginning it was a struggle,” Lina recalls, “because I didn’t have many people around me that spoke Spanish that could help me translate, so I really had to push myself.” She says her saving grace was the fact that her mom always believed in her, knowing that there was much in Lina’s future that she could accomplish. “She made sure I stayed in school and pushed me to do better, so my decision to go on with school and having my degree was [my way] of showing her my appreciation and to give me a better life.”
In 2008, following Hurricane Ike, Lina’s brother started a roofing company and moved to Houston, Texas. The rest of the family moved with him to help him out. That’s when Lina started looking for colleges that offered courses in what she had decided she wanted to do—fashion design and merchandising. “There weren’t many schools in the area that offered what I was looking for,” Lina said, so she decided to apply for college at Houston’s Community College and was accepted. There she began with the basics of math, literature and history. From there she took a few design classes but decided she didn’t want just an associates degree—she wanted to earn a bachelors degree. That’s when she began looking into other schools in Texas because staying in Texas she wouldn’t have to deal with out of state tuition. That’s when she discovered Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and decided to make the move to the Dallas area.
“My mom was very supportive and said, ‘I’ll move with you so you don’t have to pay rent’.” Her mom found a job in Dallas and Lina, now 23, began her quest for a Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising degree. To pay for her tuition she first worked some part-time jobs, even took out a student loan. Lina says that seeing her mom work hard and trying to raise her three children gave her the power and desire to begin looking for a scholarship so she could show her mom how grateful she was for all she had done. “That just gave me the power to show her that I was capable of doing it.”
It was during this time that she learned about EWL’s scholarship program, applied and was accepted. Three years later, in May 2016, at the age of 26, Lina graduated and began her career in fashion with an immediate internship at Nordstrom’s. The internship and subsequent jobs appeared to be the beginning of the fashion career Lina had always dreamed of. But, sometimes life can throw you an unexpected curve. That’s just what happened to Lina. She fell in love.
In 2017, Lina married the love of her life, a young man ready to graduate with his medical degree and the couple moved to Mount Laurel, New Jersey where he had been offered an internship. But, there was one more unexpected piece of news. Lina discovered she was pregnant.
As if those weren’t enough changes in Lina’s life, once she arrived in this small New Jersey town, she learned that there were not many fashion industry opportunities, so if she were going to work, it would have to be in some other industry. It just so happened that while Lina was attending college she had worked for a few different companies doing promotional events and had always enjoyed the work. “I liked the fact that you weren’t sitting in an office all day,” Lina said. So, when the NFL Alumni Association, a non-profit organization headquartered in Mount Laurel, offered her a job as an Events Coordinator, she accepted it. Then two years later the Director of Special Events resigned and Lina was promoted to fill the director’s role.
“I never expected to be working in sports,” Lina says. “I didn’t consider myself to be interested in sports that much.” But she does love the new role that life unexpectedly dealt her; in part because of the charitable activities that she plans, which help children. “Helping others is one of my passions,” she confesses and cites an example.
“We took kids to an Eagles game and it was the first time they had ever gotten to go to a game.” It was an experience she says brought joy to her heart. “I really found that by working here I’ve been able to fulfill my dream of working for a non-profit and helping others.”
Even though Lina lives at a distance from her alma matter and EWL and can’t attend EWL’s alumni events, she says she likes getting the emails and invitations. She also appreciates the role that EWL’s scholarship program played in bringing her to a place where she loves the new role that life unexpectedly dealt her.
Lina says that it’s encouraging because even though she’s not in the area and can’t attend events, just by being a part of EWL, “You’re still empowering women to fulfill their dreams, and that’s important. So many people don’t know what they want to do. Just having an organization that supports them no matter what—that’s important.”
From Lina’s perspective, she’s very happy with her new career path and believes that all is well that ends well, even when it arrives unexpectedly. “My first dream was to be a fashion designer. I found something different. At this moment, I’m enjoying it and I feel that EWL helped me be where I am right now.”
No doubt this unexpected path to Lina’s happiness has shaped her current philosophy: “Just go to school, get your degree and if you end up doing something completely different after you graduate, you have your degree, that’s what’s important; just do what you want to do and fulfill your dreams.”