Roselyn Herrera Rael, Social Worker and Educator
Born in rural Taos, New Mexico in 1941, the seventh of thirteen children, Roselyn Herrera rose above nearly insurmountable odds to achieve her life’s goals. Determined to see Roselyn and her siblings succeed, her mother and grandfather in particular instilled in each of them an ethic of Si Se Puede: quitting or giving up without making any effort was simply not a choice.
English was a second language for Roselyn, but she tackled it and her classes with her typical tenaciousness, graduating from Taos High School in 1960. After graduation, Roselyn chose to marry, but the relationship, which produced three children, was abusive and she ended the relationship within a decade. At the time of her divorce no services were available for victims of domestic violence and women were often held in public contempt for the failure of their marriages. Destitute, discouraged, on welfare, in public housing and not knowing where to turn next, Roselyn sought the counsel of Mary Medina, a highly regarded Taos welfare worker who urged her to go to college – children and all. From there, she went on to receive a Bachelor's degree from New Mexico Highlands University in 1972, a Master's of Social Work degree from the University of Michigan in 1974 and a doctorate from the University of Utah in 1994.
With her own experiences both supporting and coloring her life’s work, Roselyn went on to establish a distinguished career in social work education and in 1978 was presented the Teacher of the Year Award at New Mexico Highlands University. In addition to an outstanding career in academia, Roselyn worked with special needs and underserved populations including mentally ill adults and aged persons, migrants, adult and juvenile sex offenders, juveniles and adults caught up in the criminal justice system, children in treatment foster care and individuals struggling with drug/alcohol addictions.
“As a social work educator, I had many an opportunity to encourage my students to establish high ethical standards, to understand their own limitations, and maintain strong boundaries. Working with special needs populations is not for the weak of heart. What is needed is a thick skin and an abiding belief that what you do for others can bring about positive change in their lives. Commitment to the profession is essential, knowing fully well that social work will not make you a millionaire. It is also important to have mentors, persons who can help guide you, support you, help you recognize and develop your potential.”
“I was personally inspired by Mary Medina, who recognized my potential well before knew I had it in me to attend college or handle the rigors that come with it. She turned my life around. She was the embodiment of a truly genuine social worker, one who could inspire her clients to reach for their dreams and who served as an inspiration as well. She became my role model and just as importantly, a lifelong mentor. She not only inspired me but others as well. She's a remarkable human being and I for one, am truly grateful she came into my life!”
As to whom she feels is another up and coming Taoseña in her field, Roselyn says without hesitation: “Trinidad De Jesus Arguello, LISW, PhD. She is already a seasoned social worker who still has many roads to travel before she leaves the scene. It is worthwhile watching her evolve and be recognized for her accomplishments.”
In 2009 Roselyn was the recipient of an Outstanding New Mexican Woman Award sponsored by the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women for outstanding achievement and exceptional accomplishments, leadership, dedication and notable contributions to women and families in New Mexico. “The pursuit and maintenance of humanitarian ideals has been a lifelong goal and is not likely to change.”
What is it about Taos that makes it special for Roselyn? “Taos has always been home and still is today. This is the land of my cultural and racial roots. I have lived in different cities and visited different countries but Taos is where my heart and soul have always lived. It is a land of mystique and draws people from all walks of life in search of creative challenges. What inspires creativity is still a mystery to me. All I know is that creative people instill creativity in others; people are drawn to those who have like interests, shared visions and similar talents.”
Newly retired, Roselyn says, “I find tremendous pleasure spending time outdoors, enjoying nature and fishing. I live in Questa where I can enjoy the beauty of the land, where I can spend time hiking and fishing or simply visiting with the friendly folks in the area. The tranquility and hospitality found in this area may be found elsewhere but this is, for me, the best place to be.”