Hispanic Heritage Month: Fanny Villarreal helped create spaces to educate and celebrate the community

Hispanic Heritage Month

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Many people know Fanny Villarreal from her work as Executive Director of the YWCA. The organization’s mission: Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women. It’s personal for her.

“Over the years, I have learned that sometimes it is hard for people to understand what racism is because usually they use books to refer to or they use that,” Villarreal said, “So, I took it upon myself to share my own experiences.”

She’s been sharing her experiences ever since she set foot in Syracuse. Now she’s sharing them with us.

“I’m Fanny from Peru. I’m Fanny Villarreal from Peru,” she said.

She worked as a judge in Lima, Peru. After experiencing some heartbreak in a relationship, she decided to have a fresh start. Syracuse became home when her siblings moved here to attend Syracuse University. She quickly settled in, and her first job in the states was a cashier job at Nojaim Brothers Market on Syracuse’s Westside.

“I remember my father one day asked me, so ‘Fanny, I spent all this money for you to become a lawyer. Are you planning to stay working in a supermarket?’ I said dad, just leave me alone for now, because I know what I need to do and right now, as I felt at that time, I needed just to be in a safe space,” Villarreal explained.

She created the same for the customers. They would often go to her with questions. The market’s owner, Paul Nojaim recognized that and came to her with a new opportunity.

“One day, Paul came and said ‘I have you an interview at Catholic Charities.’ I’m like what? And he goes, ‘Yeah you have so much to give to your community that I think it’s time for you to do that.’ I’m like really, I don’t want to go,” Villarreal recalled.

She did and was hired on the spot. It was bittersweet, but it was a career move she did not know she needed. She was encouraged to go to SU, setting her on a path of doing work to benefit the community.

“I was blessed with people, with people that God put in my life, and surround me with great people that’s always helping me, helping me, helping me,” Fanny Villarreal said, choking back tears, “I think that’s one of the reasons that I always loved to help people too because I received so much from people that I want to give back.”

She gives back in many ways. Villarreal created the radio program, Nosotros Radio, nearly 27 years ago. She also worked for the Spanish Action League. She helped start the Latino Festival and the festival created a scholarship for youth.

“Those are all tools. The radio, the Latino Festival and everything that we do to celebrate our culture are tools we utilize to teach the community at large who we are,” Villarreal explained.

She achieved more than she could have ever imagined when she first came here. With the support of the community, she’s not finished yet.

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