United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.
Image Courtesy of Cristina Loyola
Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Cristina Loyola.
Affiliation(s) (past and present):
Over the years, I’ve been a professional vocalist, a voice and piano teacher, a paralegal, a nanny, a school registrar, a server, and much more. Most recently, I attended ODU where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education, and I’ve since started working in Virginia Beach as an elementary music teacher.
How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?
I’ve been a musician for as long as I can remember - both my parents are musicians and I grew up with music at the center of my life in one way or another. I started performing at a young age, mostly with the Navy Bands my dad was stationed with. Over the years, I was active in choirs and music ministry, and by the time I graduated from high school (and the Governor’s School for the Arts) I knew that music was going to be a part of my career as well. I originally attended George Mason University for Voice Performance and Music Education, but found that I wasn’t quite ready to follow that path yet. Life has a way of trying to get in the way, you know? I’ve been through a lot of difficult times in my life, and I was pushed off track for longer than I anticipated. For several years after leaving, I taught private voice and piano lessons while working as a paralegal, a substitute teacher, and a school registrar. I finally worked up the nerve to go back to school to finish my music education degree in 2018, and I am unapologetically proud of myself for pushing through to finish my degree. In the end, I was offered a job in Virginia Beach while I was still student teaching, and although I’ve been teaching in some form or another since 2003, this is my first time teaching in a public elementary school. I absolutely adore my job. My kids are teaching me just as much as I’m (hopefully) teaching them, and it may sound super cheesy, but every single day I’m thankful for the life experiences I collected during my “time off”.
How long have you been working/ living in Hampton Roads?
I grew up a Navy brat and I moved to Hampton Roads in 2000 with my parents. Apart from a few years when I moved up to NoVA for school, I’ve lived in Hampton Roads since then. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.
What advice would you give young women going into your field?
Trust yourself. I know that sounds trite, but I mean it. I had a lot of trouble with confidence for a very long time, and even now I still struggle with it. Own your triumphs and your good ideas. Allow yourself to believe that you know what you’re doing. I used to have a bad habit of voicing an idea I’d had, but playing it off like I’d read it somewhere or heard it from someone else, rather than taking credit for my own brain. It was purely due to insecurity - I didn’t trust that my own ideas were worth anything, so if I pretended I’d heard it somewhere else, I could hide behind that if it wasn’t well-received. Don’t do that. When you’re good at something, accept that you’re good at it, and allow yourself to be proud of it. Something I’ve told my students for years is “Everyone in the world will try to take your accomplishments away from you. Don’t take them away from yourself.”
Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?
For me, I think it’s more of an awareness of what is expected from women in the workplace that has been more influential. I’ve always been painfully aware of the expectations put upon women who work, in any field, and I’ve weighed those expectations with my beliefs and done what I could to find a balance or compromise. Have I always succeeded? Nope. I, like so many people, have fallen victim to the “people pleasing” mentality in the past, and that doesn’t mean I failed myself or womankind, it simply means that I’m human. I’m just as capable and efficient while bare-faced as I am when wearing makeup. I’m just as professional in a dress as I am in a power suit. And my hard-earned years of experience and expertise still exist whether I’m stoic or bubbly. There’s a lot more thinking-things-through when you’re a working woman, especially when you work with mostly men - you can’t always openly share an opinion, regardless of how professionally you state it. There is often a double standard, where men are rewarded for being forward, blunt, and taking the initiative, while women tend to be categorized as “difficult” for the same things.
Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?
Well. This is a loaded question. I’ve held many different jobs over the years, and all of them come with their own set of gender-based challenges and advantages. For example, I’m a trained opera singer. Within that field, just like any other field in the entertainment industry, there’s a certain expectation of how I’m supposed to look, act, and dress. Of course I’ve gotten comments about my appearance, and of course I’ve found them frustratingly irrelevant. In another job, one which I held for a brief period of time, I discovered a week or so in that I was being ignored in favor of my male subordinates - despite the fact that I was the one with experience (and the one hired for the job), at staff meetings my boss would ask questions of the men in the room, and I would have to risk being labeled “that woman” and interject with the answers. I left that job pretty quickly once I realized that my emails (and the emails of the one other woman) would go unanswered, unlike the men - and that whenever I spoke it was as if I wasn’t even in the room. I wish I could tell you that this kind of misogyny is rare, but while I’ll admit this was one of my more extreme experiences, the idea behind the treatment is not rare at all, and I would bet you money that you (or the women in your life) have similar stories. On the flip side, as a teacher, I recognize that I have the privilege of generally being inherently trusted around children - I have many male teacher friends who always have to be aware of their proximity to and interactions with their students - while I am also very aware of this, I don’t have to have the same fears they do. This would also be the case when I was a childcare provider - I could take the kids to the park by myself and no one would bat an eye. If a man does it, there are questions and side-eyes.
Those are some of the basic challenges and advantages that I’ve noticed, you know, the surface level ones. On the more serious side of things, sexual harassment and assault are so prevalent that navigating any job can be a minefield of challenges, especially if you’re new and you don’t know anyone and are just trying to find your place. I feel extremely lucky to not have run into this recently, but when I did in the past...the stress and fear of not knowing when someone is going to pull something next, not knowing if you were hired for your expertise or your appearance/gender, not knowing if it’s safe to confide in a coworker or supervisor...this is a daily concern for women everywhere, regardless of age, size, color, ability, etc. We need to do better. We need to strive for equity, not equality.
What has been your greatest challenge and what have you learned from it?
My greatest challenge has been overcoming my own fear of success. That may sound silly, but with success comes scrutiny, and with that comes criticism. It took me a long time to be confident and comfortable enough with myself to be able to withstand that kind of criticism. I would tell myself all kinds of things. “I don’t need to audition for that scholarship, I’m sure there are more talented people out there who deserve it more.” “I don’t think I know enough to be answering this question, and I’m not sure why they asked me of all people, so I’m going to answer it and pretend I heard the answer from someone else or read it in a book, just in case I don’t know what I’m talking about.” “There’s no point in going back to school, I’m not like all the people I know who have, they’re so much smarter than me.” I had to accept that I am smart, that I am talented, that I am capable, and that I deserve the things I earn. That took me a while, but you know what? That’s okay. Everyone grows at a different rate, and it doesn’t make the lessons learned any less valuable.
Any closing thoughts?
I’m very lucky to have strong women in my life who constantly inspire me and provide examples of how I want to live my life, and I’m forever grateful to them for showing me how to find my own voice. I strive to be that kind of person for the next generation, these incredible tiny humans that are going to own this world one day. I want them to feel represented. I want them to feel seen. I want them to feel heard. And I’m going to do what I can to help them learn that they can.
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