If you look up “Rita Paniagua’s” name, you’ll see she wears many hats; from Common Councilor At-Large, to Program Developer at Interfaith Works.
Regardless of what hat she’s wearing on any particular day, Paniagua says community and representation are always at the center of her work.
“It’s easier to come forward when you see someone that looks like you,” said Common Councilor-at-Large Paniagua.
Paniagua came to the states in 2003, with plans to return home to San Juan, Puerto Rico, but she saw work to be done in Central New York’s Hispanic community.
“When I came to Syracuse I saw in the Hispanic community such a need, I’d really never seen in Puerto Rico. I dealt with the first time in Syracuse,” she said.
So she worked with the Spanish Action League, Molina Health, Cancer Connects, and a whole host of other organizations, and decided to stay. Paniagua says she was determined to fill language barriers and bridge the gap between the community and opportunity.
As she flips through memories of Puerto Rico, she reflects on other hats she’s worn as a prima ballerina and Vice President of Operations for the Santurce Crabbers baseball team. But she points most often to pictures of her parents.
Paniagua’s mother died of cancer and now she takes care of her father who she says inspired her to be everything she is today.
“I felt more educated by my father in times of professionally than any university could ever teach you because you were in the real world real time,” she said.
As a politician, a lawyer, and the owner of the professional baseball team Paniagua worked for in Puerto Rico, her father also wore many hats. She says he gave her her first opportunity to serve and taught her to love and focus on the community.
As Paniagua takes care of her father, she says she owes her success in all of her roles to her dad — tucking away his lessons under every hat she wears.
“I think my mission is to be a bridge between the community and the things that make me a resource to them,” Paniagua said. “And when I said the community, I’m talking about everyone in the community at large.”
If you look up Rita Paniagua’s name, you’ll find she’s a daughter, politician, and program developer. But most of all, she’s a lover of the Hispanic and Syracuse community.