The flight of aviation executives from poverty to opportunity

It was a Boeing 747 that carried Aurelina Peña Prado from a life of poverty to a land of opportunity.

In January 1995, the 7-year-old sat next to her mother as the plane left their home in the Dominican Republic – they were on their way to a better life and reunion with her father.

America offered opportunities that her father, Lorenzo Peña, risked his life to achieve.

When Prado was 1 year old, his father made a makeshift raft, called a yola, and crossed dangerous waters from the Dominican Republic, more than 70 miles away, to Puerto Rico. He became a naturalized American citizen, moved to Texas, and worked as a welder in the oil and gas industry.

He had applied for permanent residency for Prado and his mother, but was unsuccessful due to the complexity of the process.

Aurelina Prado is Executive Director of Transportation Services and Support Operations for Boeing Global Services. At age 7, Prado and her mother were smuggled across the Rio Grande near Harlingen to join her father in Houston.

Jerry Lara / Team Photographer

So when the 747 landed in Mexico City, Prado and his mother traveled on and off the buses until they reached Monterrey on January 31.

In Tamaulipas on February 9, they encountered a man – a coyote or a smuggler. Peña had paid the coyote to take them across the border to Texas. The fee per person was $5,500 from the Dominican Republic to Mexico and $2,000 from Mexico to the United States. This included a visa, travel and hotel stay in the Mexican capital.

They waited on a train to transport them to the border, but the locomotive never moved. But the smuggler had a backup plan: he drove them to Matamoros. They left their suitcases and layered on clothes to stay warm. Then the group marched on foot through the desert, dodging Border Patrol agents until they reached the Rio Grande.

The men cared for Prado and his mother, who was battling cancer. They were the only females in the group as they trudged through the rocky, cactus-covered terrain for two days and nights.

One of the men wore Prado most of the trip. When they crossed a shallow part of the Rio Grande, he made sure it never touched water.

“I have been very blessed on this journey,” Prado said. “It was very hard.”

She began honing her survival skills once they crossed the Rio Grande in February. The group walked to a park, where men in a van picked them up and took them to a house in Harlingen. Prado said the coyotes allowed Prado and his mother to talk to his father so he knew they were okay. They were held until her father made another payment.

“They own you until they get paid,” Prado said. “They tell you what to do. You are literally in a hostage situation.

The smugglers made the change that night at a gas station in Pasadena, southeast of Houston. Prado was outside the van when she saw a golden Lincoln Town Car. Standing by the car was her father – it was the first time she had seen him in two years.

His father said financing the business was not an easy task. Her family encouraged her to be independent and self-sufficient.

A 22-year Air Force veteran, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. By observing and listening to San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

“It’s your job to go to school and make something of yourself,” Peña told her daughter.

Once in the United States, Prado did not pass up the opportunities made possible by the sacrifices of her parents. She excelled in high school, held two jobs while in college, and worked her way up in aviation to become a supply chain manager at Boeing Global Services.

A month after graduating at the top of his high school class, Prado studied at Spartan College of Avionics in Tulsa, Okla. She went to class from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. she couldn’t fail tests, miss school, or pay for extra tuition.

“Every minute counts,” Prado said.

From Monday to Thursday, she was a quality manager in a call center. From Friday to Monday, she worked 36 night shifts for Nordam Transparency, making aircraft cabin windows.

But her busy schedule at school, working two jobs and studying during breaks paid off. Prado graduated at the top of his class. She now holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Boeing hired her as a flight mechanic in Seattle. The plane was a 747, the same type of jet she first flew on as a child.

“It was like a full lap,” Prado said. “It manifests in my life now. It’s definitely my favorite plane.

In 2010 Prado was transferred to Boeing San Antonio, established in 1998.

His promotions have included operations analyst, process engineer and operations manager roles. Currently, she supports supply chain execution for government programs in multiple states. Prado is also the airport advisory commissioner for the city of San Antonio.

Prado co-founded the Women in Aviation Alamo City Chapter to introduce girls to careers in aviation. The group sponsored Girls in Aviation Day at Stinson Municipal Airport, featuring experts from different professional fields and the aviation industry.

“We have to make it socially acceptable for girls to be smart,” Prado said, “and for any woman to have an important role. It’s our duty to show girls that they can have a family and a career.

Bexar County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark was impressed when she met Prado at a South Bexar County meeting against annexation six years ago. The couple have collaborated on projects, such as collecting prom dresses for teenage girls in the Southside Independent School District.

“She was so passionate and driven,” Adame-Clark said. “She is a driving force for the next generation and a strong and promising community leader.”

Prado is also a board member of the Lemonade Circle, a non-profit organization that exposes girls of color to different career fields. She said the organization will host 70 girls at the group’s first STEM event in March.

Prado and her husband named their 3-year-old daughter Amelia Katherine after famous pilots Amelia Earhart and Katherine Stinson, who trained Canadian pilots at a time when she was not allowed to be a pilot in the military. Prado plans to share a message with her daughter, just like she does with the San Antonio girls: “The sky is no longer the limit, only your beginning.”

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