When I stepped inside Goorin Bros. Hat Shop in Chicago, there were hats on every table and every shelf — fedoras and flatcaps, baseball and bowlers. There, I met Tanya Jaramilla, and not unlike the establishment itself, she wears many hats: shopkeeper, wife, sister, student.
“I’ll be the first person in the whole family to graduate from college.”
Tanya is 32 years old and approximately one year away from earning a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Communications from DePaul University.
Tanya’s grandparents came to the Windy City in the 1950’s from Puerto Rico on the promise of steady factory work.
“For my family, it was a BIG deal to finish high school.
“For me, I always wanted bigger and better and more.”
Tanya was certain she would go to college.
“I just didn’t know when or how or what that would look like. It’s really, really, really important that I get my degree and graduate — do the whole shebang!”
If you’re doing the math, you already guessed there was a detour after high school that Tanya will tell you was worth every minute and helped her become the person she is today.
“I have no regrets, because if I hadn’t lived the life I already lived, I wouldn’t be living the life I have now. I run this fantastic little hat shop. The people that work for me are great, and the people that come and shop here are great. I’m doing school the way I wanted to do it, which is with all my focus and energy and attention.”
Straight out of high school, Tanya worked part-time at a Gap store and was soon promoted to a full-time manager position. What had been a balancing act between work and college tipped. “I did that for a really long time. And school just kind of fell to the back burner.”
Simultaneously, Tanya was in a long-term relationship. About seven years later, and in a cloud of mistrust, Tanya’s relationship ended in a break-up that became a total life shake-up. She changed her job, her home, her city.
“I left and went to Vegas to live for a few months with my grandma, and that was one of the best experiences I ever had. I was able to connect with her on a level that I’d never done before. We talked about her life, and I learned stories about her struggle.
“It really affirmed for me the decision that I had made to move on and change and do something that was right for me. So when it was time for me to come back to Chicago, I came back with a cleansed soul. I felt like a new me. I felt like the me that I was trying to get to for the last six or seven years, and it just never happened because I kept letting my comfort get in the way of it.”
Tanya says she wanted to do something important. Something that makes a difference. Something she could be passionate about. She found it in a non-profit organization called the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance.
“It was a little surreal at the beginning because I was so used to having to struggle. And having to overcome something.
“I started digging in. I started really working with the organization in the community.”
And she realized something.
“This is what I was supposed to do, you know? It was meant to be. I was meant to get to know these young people who have all of these aspirations but no real support or access to resources. I was able to provide that for them in ways that they never had before.”
Tanya remembers an inquisitive little girl named Susie. “She made me feel like I … showed her that you don’t have to succumb to the neighborhood that you’re from. You don’t have to fall into the traps that the community around you sets for you.
“That’s something I try to instill in my little sisters. They are young moms, and it’s a conversation that I’ve had with them over and over. You don’t have to settle.
“I was settling for a really long time.” She thinks back to that old relationship. “Once I finally broke free of that, it was really important for me to make sure they understood that their lot in life doesn’t necessarily have to be that. They can work harder, they can be better, they can do more, if they want to.
“I grew as a person from my relationship experiences, but also as a woman.”
Tanya says in her relationship, she had become someone other than who she wanted to be. “In order to fulfill someone else’s happiness, I was turning a blind eye. I was in denial. The biggest challenge for me: being honest with myself.
“Another thing I taught my sisters was that people will only do to you what you allow them to.
“If I continue to let someone treat me terribly, they’re going to keep treating me terribly. Because I’m not putting a stop to it. And I’m not ending it. It gives them the message that that’s ok. And it’s not ok.
When Tanya was 27, that year was filled with introspection. “I did a lot of digging into myself and thinking and feeling.
“It wasn’t easy. I don’t think those moments in life ever are. But I think it paved the way for me to be the person I am today. I feel like I am much stronger. I’m more confident. I have a better view of what my future’s going to be like.”
A future that includes her new husband Sonny Jaramilla. They were married just last month.
“When I found him, I realized that all of the things that I had worked through and I had lived through … that was preparation for me to get my mind right and my head right and my heart right and my soul right, so that when he came along, I was ready.”
It was Sonny who reminded Tanya of her dream of graduating from college. “He gave me the kick in the butt.
“He is the one who encouraged me to leave the non-profit so that I could focus on school without having to try and juggle the two.”
Tanya is not abandoning her mission of making an impact on the community. She’s investing in it through education. And going forward, she plans to find ways to give young people who are from low income neighborhoods opportunities to engage in the arts.
“I’m very urban. I’ve lived in Chicago pretty much my whole life. And I know the challenges that urban life can bring. But I also feel like there’s some opportunity and some beauty in that.
“Everyone cannot live in Lakeview, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the neighborhood and the community that you’re in. It should still be safe, and it should still be beautiful, and it should still be full of life and creativity!”
And that is where Tanya says her future will find her.
But first, she will keep working toward the day when she dons the style-impaired mortarboard and turns the tassel from right to left.
After that, Tanya will be wearing a proud new custom hat, in a style all her own.