By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
The daughter of a first generation immigrant from Honduras, Pam Campos-Palma entered the U.S. Air Force out of high school, where she rose to become an Operational Intelligence Officer. As an officer, Campos-Palma traveled the world, and was especially fond of Kyrgyzstan, where she saw her presence as a successful, professional woman broaden the horizons of the young girls she met.
Following her active duty, Campos-Palma enrolled at PSU as a political science major. At PSU Campos-Palma became director of Las Mujeras, a Latina student organization, prioritizing the mentoring of middle and high school and collegiate Latinas, and combating the cultural stigmas present in higher education. She likewise became involved with the National Hispana Leadership Institute, from whom she received the 2014 Rising Star award, and became the first student member of the school’s Institutional Governing Board of Trustees.
In 2014, Campos-Palma was named a national Newman Civic Fellow, and given the Shattuck Award for Outstanding Service to Women. She currently studies at NYU, where she’s pursuing an MPA at the Wagner School of Public Service.
PQ Monthly: You’ve been part of many communities and organization, including the U.S. Air Force, the PSU group Las Mujeres, Causa Oregon, and now the Women’s City Club of New York. What does community mean to you?
Pam Campo-Palma: Many of my mantras are about living a communal-minded life; we are all interconnected in some way or another, and our intersectionalities are more intrinsic that we might think. Building and being in community brings insurmountable strength, resilience, and fortitude that can move mountains, but it takes courage, work and intentionality. Community to me is about being conscious of others, it’s about support that’s not marred in expectations or being transactional. To me the notion of “uno para el otro” (being one for the other) has the ability to lift many, instead of just a select few.
PQ: While at PSU, you helped mentor middle, high school, and collegiate Latinas, and facilitated workshops on Interrupting Oppression. What’s the role of activism in your life, and what meaning do you draw from it?
PC-P: I didn’t truly understand the word “activist” until I moved to Portland. In retrospect, my mother, a single parent, and Honduran immigrant, was the first activist I knew, before I even knew what that was. Advocacy and serving others has been a life-long cultural norm and value. I have many memories of her speaking out, stepping up to do what was right, defending or helping others without needing anything in return. She’s my number one role model in many ways, and ultimately shaped my own convictions and activism. Activism to me is about consciousness and choosing to act to change a damaging perception, or a negative situation. It isn’t always about changing the world, but about having integrity, and compassion to act in small moments that add up to a better, more whole existence.
PQ: You’ve accomplished a lot in your life, including being named the first student member of PSU’s Board of Trustees. Who and what’s inspired you in your achievements?
PC-P: I’m deeply inspired by my mother, who instilled my comfortability with taking risks, being fearless, and having confidence in myself. Throughout different junctures in life, I’ve been very blessed to have geographically scattered, but very genuine women and men, from an art teacher, to military officers, to peers, who all have really, truly believed in me. To me, humbling, intentional support and encouragement from very different folks is priceless soul sustenance. During my time in Oregon I was also deeply impacted by the wisdom, and role model of Jilma Meneses, Governor Kate Brown, and Kendall Clawson, who among others, really exemplified to me what genuine mentorship and moral courage looks like.
PQ: You’re studying public service at NYU now. What do you see in your future?
PC-P: I came to NYU to figure that out, to learn more about myself, and the possibilities to be had. I’m passionate about many social justice issues, and there are many systemic, policy changes I seek to address. I’m pursuing a hybrid MPA, focusing on International Management and Policy. Ultimately I’m interested in the social sector, raising consciousness and leadership development within underrepresented communities. I’ve also become interested in international development, global security as it relates to gender equity, feminicide, and violent crimes, as well as peacekeeping.
PQ: As a member of the inaugural Brilliant List, do you have any thoughts to pass on to young activists or leaders who might just be starting off on their paths?
PC-P: Everyone has the ability to be a leader, a change agent, and an innovator. We tend to over glorify leadership, to put it on a pedestal, making it so far removed, and isolated. This makes it difficult for folks to see themselves as leaders, when in all actuality you very likely possess the very tenacity required to invoke change. Even the smallest acts of kindness, and compassion can plant small seeds of infectious consciousness. Believe in yourself, be kind to yourself, embrace living outside a box of comfort, and you’ll find strength and wisdom you never knew you had.