Best of both worlds: Quiroga’s success story a round trip to Bolivia and back

Marblehead – When Marcel Quiroga moved back to the United States from Bolivia while in her late 30s, she knew she would be starting from scratch. She didn’t have a job, she didn’t have a place to call home, yet she had two children to support on her own.

Cut to four years later, and the Marblehead resident is already on her way to ascending toward the top of the financial field. As vice president of wealth-management relations at Wellesley Hills-based Capital Formation Group, an independent financial advisory firm, Quiroga is responsible for building and managing relationships with wealthy clients who include Wall Street tycoons.

Hardly seen without a Blackberry, a laptop or something connecting her to her work, Quiroga’s days revolve around helping her clients plan for their financial futures. Recently named one of the Boston Business Journal’s yearly “20 on the Move,” a list of Boston-area Hispanic executives who are at the top of their respective fields, you could say that she’s going places.

But most stories of success come with struggle. And Quiroga’s had a few. Not only did she get a late start on her career in the U.S., but for a long time she has fought cultural and gender stereotypes in the workplace.

Yet as she sat in her sun-drenched living room amid Bolivian artwork, Marblehead picture books, and photos of family, she downplayed her struggles while explaining how she’s come to embrace both of her Bolivian and American cultural identities, all while working toward the success she’s earned. 

 

Cross cultures

Quiroga was born in the United States to Bolivian parents. Her father, a professor at Salem State College, moved the family to Marblehead when was young, and she spent her formative years as, to her knowledge, the only Hispanic student in the Marblehead school system.

“To me, living in Marblehead and growing up here, I felt like I was American but it always felt like I had something different about me,” Quiroga explained. 

The fact is she was different. She spoke Spanish at home and English in the classroom. She also had rules that were stricter in her household, another byproduct of her family’s Bolivian culture. Further distancing herself from her peers were common misunderstandings borne from naiveté. Classmates would sometimes ask what seemed to her strange questions, even going as far as to ask whether or not Bolivians lived in caves.

“I would be surprised, maybe sometimes embarrassed, that people would think that,” Quiroga said. “I realized kids thought that I was different. It was unusual for them to know someone from another country like Bolivia.”  

But those misunderstandings didn’t prevent her from enjoying school, friends and myriad extracurricular activities. Things drastically changed for Quiroga during her junior year, when her father moved the family to Bolivia for his sabbatical. During that time, she ended up falling in love with a Bolivian man, and for the next 20 years she lived there, first on her husband’s dairy farm, and then, after her divorce, in a small Bolivian city.

It wasn’t until after her divorce, as she was struggling to get by, that she joined the workforce. Although she had no formal training in the financial services, she got a job as a marketing officer at a local non-profit focused on sustainable development after cramming enough to pass the required test.

“That opened a door into the financial world,” Quiroga remembered.

Through sheer will and determination she got her college degree at the same time, all the while building up a reputable career. After transitioning into the private sector, she eventually ended up working as the customer-service manager for the largest bank in Bolivia, which held about $1.9 billion in assets.

“It was a very big step up,” Quiroga said.

She also was one of the only women in the field in her country, which proved somewhat tough.

“You just kind of learn to deal with it because if you don’t you won’t survive,” she explained. “As a woman there, you have to work three to four times as hard.”

Which she did. Within two years, she was promoted to the position of manager of corporate relations.

Meanwhile, there was a something in her heart drawing her back to the United States. So when her kids were at the age where she felt they could handle the move, she dropped everything to come back to Marblehead.

 “While I was [in Bolivia] I felt like it was the right place and vice versa — It’s a tug,” she said. “I’m a citizen of both countries.”

With no job lined up, she first crashed with friends until she found a job through connections at Morgan Stanley. Although the job was “a step down” from what she had been doing in Bolivia, she turned it into something of her own. In less than a year, she joined the private banking world at Merrill Lynch, which was more on par with what she had been doing in the past, working with fewer clients with larger net worth. That job led to further advancements and eventually the job she now holds.

In addition to her professional advancements, she was asked to serve on a variety of boards in leadership roles, including the Women of the Harvard Club Committee, which she now chairs.

With everything she’s done, Quiroga is still reaching for further successes.

“I don’t feel like I’ve reached the level I want to reach,” she explained.

Her dreams include owning her own firm. She would also like to perhaps be successful enough to help educate poorer women in Bolivia about financial independence.

“I still feel like there is much more that I could do,” she continued.

However, mother Beatriz Quiroga is more than proud of everything her daughter has done thus far.

“She works very, very hard — her success is because she really has spent a lot of time trying to make the best of what she’s doing,” Beatriz said. “If she has to go out of her way to do better at her job, she does.”

 

Making strides against stereotypes

Although she is able to compete with the best of her colleagues in the business world, Quiroga said that there are times when those same colleagues single her out as “the Latina.”

“They sometimes assume that because you are from some Latin American country you don’t have the same level of knowledge or skill set,” she said.

Or they think she has an advantage reaching out to other Latin American business people because of their possible shared connection, which she quickly discounts.

As for how she views her own heritage, she has a new term: “Latina-American.”

“When I left this country, I was American-Latina, but I’ve lived there so long and I have Bolivian kids… There is an element of wanting to preserve that,” she said.  

To maintain her dual cultural identity, she continues to speak Spanish with her children and with other family members at home. She is also a big lover of Bolivian food. 

“When I cook, it’s often Bolivian,” she said.

One of her favorite things to make is a spicy chicken dish consisting of three types of chili, diced tomatoes, and many spices. But she also loves her American culture, emphasizing that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday, one that she even celebrated in Bolivia.

“I think I have the best of both worlds,” Quiroga explained. “It’s a blessing to be able to enjoy both and integrate both into my being.”  

She added that even with the flurry of stories within the media of Hispanic women ascending to positions of power, the country still has a long way to go in terms of accepting Hispanic professionals. To confront such observed inequities, Quiroga organized an event several years ago, hosted by the Boston Red Sox, which brought together Hispanic leaders from a variety of professions.

In Marblehead, she’s been delighted to meet other Spanish speakers who have chosen to settle in town because growing up she didn’t know any.

She called the stories like that of Puerto Rican Sonia Sotomayor, who became the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, or Hilda Solis, of Nicaraguan and Mexican descent, who became the first Hispanic U.S. Labor secretary, “great beginnings.”

“I think we know about these people because there are so few of them,” Quiroga explained. “When people think Latino, they think of a janitor, or someone behind the counter… Those are dignified jobs, but those are not the only jobs Hispanics have done.”

 

According to the most recent census data, only 1 percent of Marblehead’s population identifies themselves as Latino or Hispanic. Nonetheless, the town is home to a surprising number — three — of the Boston Business Journal’s “20 on the Move,” an annual list of top Hispanic executives in the Boston area. The Reporter will profile each of these executives, offering a glimpse into who these people are, and what’s made them so successful.

Source: Marblehead

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