Employee spotlight: Heiddy Rocha celebrates Hispanic heritage

Tuesday, September 19, 2023
Training and Development Program Analyst Heiddy Rocha (TSA photo)

Heiddy Rocha runs at full throttle.

“Everything I do at TSA, I go full force,” said Rocha, a Training and Development program analyst. “I don't hold back. You get all of me in my personal and professional life.”

Depending on what side of the coin you look at, Rocha’s Cuban and Puerto Rican roots are largely credited or blamed for her zeal and passion. Perhaps, she admits, it’s a little of both.

Her parents, who married in secret, fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba for Puerto Rico in 1980 in hopes of a better life. They were responsible for assisting in the legal immigration of over 20 other family members and provided livelihoods for them in family-owned businesses.

Realizing the family savings was spent on providing freedom to as many of her family members as possible, Rocha took the weight of her education and future on her shoulders when, at 16, she accepted a full scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I worked hard, and I made sure I was an overachiever,” said Rocha. “Honestly, I guess the rest of the world saw me as, ‘Heiddy just has to be the best,’ but in my mind, I needed to do as best as I could to make sure I got a good scholarship to a good school. Ensuring my brother and I had a good education was a priority for my parents. It validated their sacrifice of leaving their homeland and family in search of freedom of expression and the American dream.”

Hispanic roots transplanted

 A custom-made domino table owned by Heiddy Rocha’s parents honors their homeland and one of their favorite pastimes. (Photo courtesy of Heiddy Rocha)
 A custom-made domino table owned by Heiddy Rocha’s parents honors their homeland and one of their favorite pastimes. (Photo courtesy of Heiddy Rocha)

Rocha’s Hispanic culture is largely a patriarchal structure, which at first glance ironically runs counter to her independent character. Along with her husband and 20-month-old daughter, Rocha relocated to Virginia and is physically separated from her tight-knit Florida family.

While staying close to her traditional roots, Rocha has extended the family tree branches by living out cultural traditions in her own way. She and her other family members, who have geographically and emotionally branched out, buck tradition and are redefining what it means to be Hispanic. Through it all, Rocha remains steadfast in carrying forward the best of the culture.

“I cook rice and beans and Cuban food; I speak to my daughter in Spanish, and I visit my Florida family often,” said Rocha. “I miss everybody in one spot, having big parties and Sunday gatherings at the beach.”

Living out the Hispanic culture at work

Armed with a solid math and science education, Rocha, who works with TSA leadership programs in the Continual Learning and Leadership Branch of the Training Operations Division, sees value in using measurable metrics to evaluate training processes.

“Although I understand that sometimes throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks is necessary - that's part of innovation - metrics is what proves if what you're doing is working or it isn't,” said Rocha. “There's no gray area or wiggle room in numbers. So, yes, that speaks to me.”

Rocha’s Cuban and Puerto Rican roots are inseparably intertwined with her present life, resulting in a close family attachment.

“There's a selflessness to the culture,” said Rocha. “When you need something, the family rallies, and they come together. They accept all of you - your flaws and imperfections. They cry with you when you're crying, and they laugh with you when you're laughing.”

That sentiment explains how she views her work at TSA.

A stable in the Cuban kitchen, long loaves of freshly baked bread and Cuban coffee are always close by. (Photo courtesy of Heiddy Rocha)
A stable in the Cuban kitchen, long loaves of freshly baked bread and Cuban coffee are always close by. (Photo courtesy of Heiddy Rocha)

“I see each person as an individual, and I don't try to pigeonhole them or tell them you can't do something,” said Rocha about her passion for helping others grow and develop. “I always try to empathize with them and ask how an I be of service. I’ve never believed in just keeping what I learned to myself.”

Rocha is most gratified when she recognizes a teachable moment hitting home. “The glow sparkles from their eyes,” Rocha enthusiastically explained. “There’s no better feeling.”

A personal eureka experience as a lead TSA officer at Orlando International Airport shaded Rocha’s views on leadership and taught her the power each of us has to positively impact someone. An urgent call for volunteers at a neighboring airport to help with an influx of Haitian refugees fleeing earthquake conditions brought out the best in her team. They all committed with one caveat – she had to be their lead.

“In that moment, I realized the impact I had on others,” said Rocha. “I realized there are leaders at every level. From that moment on, my approach toward leadership changed.”

What I do matters

“What I do matters because I assist leaders at all levels with their personal and professional growth so they can become the best versions of themselves. When leaders show they care about their people, they build trust. When employees trust their leaders and feel valued and seen by them, people are more likely to choose to follow their leadership as opposed to ‘do what they are told.’ Leadership development improves employee retention, engagement and performance and directly supports care for our people by fostering an environment of continual learning and growth.”

By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs