How My Hispanic Heritage Drives My Journey for the Earth

By Karina Franco Padilla

I grew up in a remote, small, West Texas border town about 90 miles west of Big Bend National Park. As a kid, my Dad would say it was “where the world ends.” And a lot of the time, it certainly felt that way in the middle of the West Texas desert and mountains.  

I’m incredibly proud to have been raised by parents from different backgrounds: my mother is 100% Mexican, and my father was Mexican-American, born and raised on the Texas border.  

I was raised to be proud of my heritage and who I am, even though I may not look the same or come from the same background as others. Spanish was my first language. I grew up fully bilingual, speaking only Spanish in the house and English outside the home. I embrace the gift of dual languages and recognize that it has opened doors throughout my career. As a kid, my mom always told me that “a person that speaks one language is worth one person; a person that speaks two languages is worth two people.” Being of a multi-cultural and multi-lingual background has always been something I’ve valued and embraced with a profound source of pride. 


Despite my parents being successful educators, they also hold deep entrepreneurial spirits. I knew from an early age that I wanted to go into business. When you’re in a rural town like mine, the idea of chasing after big city skyscrapers compelled me to pursue a career in business. That manifested my interest in finance and accounting. I attended college at the University of Texas in Austin and had the good fortune of interning and later working in tech, industrials, and manufacturing.  

For many years early in my career, I was often the only woman and Hispanic with a seat at the table. I can remember walking into investor meetings only to be asked, “who are we going to be talking to?” before I’d tell them that I was the representative from whatever company I was with at the time. 

While those interactions may have been awkward for those I was meeting with, it was never for me. Coming from an underrepresented group, I learned early on to dream big and work harder than anyone to make my dreams come true. So be proud of who you are and be proud to be at the table, you earned it.   

Our backgrounds and experiences shape who we are. As a Hispanic woman, I’ve looked at the obstacles I’ve been presented with as challenges to overcome. And I’m fortunate I’ve had champions who’ve taken chances on me along the way. I see my role as a leader as one that needs to be a mentor and open doors for others. It’s a sense of paying it forward. I know my children will face similar challenges, and I hope that someone will be there to open doors for them as well. 

Looking back, I now appreciate my upbringing even more than when I was growing up. Today, I’m grateful and more appreciative that we travel back home every year to visit my mom, the Big Bend, Santa Elena Canyon, and the breathtaking landscape I was lucky to be surrounded by growing up.  

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When I think about Proterra, including our company’s purpose and mission, what stands out to me is captured in the meaning of our name. Proterra means For The Earth. At a very young age, I took for granted the magnificence that nature brings because I was fortunate to grow up in the abundance of its beauty. I vividly remember the starlit skies, crisp air, and the smell of rain on the West Texas landscape.  

In some ways, I liken my experience at Proterra to going “back to the future” – marrying my upbringing as a child in the middle of the desert and mountains under an amazing starlit sky to my first work experiences at tech companies. But at its core, to me, For The Earth is a reminder that we shouldn’t take for granted the things we’re given and that which we earn – whether that’s the West Texas stars or the clean air we breathe, the lessons we learn as kids, or the opportunities we’re afforded. So much of that is a reflection of my values and proud heritage. 

And while I’ve been fortunate to have a seat at the table, I’m focused on opening doors for others to follow through. I know that the strongest team is a diverse team that comes from different places and brings different perspectives. I feel fortunate that right now, I’m living with purpose. I’m doing my dream job, working with brilliant leaders in an organization that shares my values and a common purpose. Our passion is driven by our common purpose: For The Earth.