Betsy Baltodano was born in the capital city of Managua, Nicaragua. When she was three years old, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake came through the city, injuring 20,000 people and displacing 300,000. Betsy’s family was among those who had to relocate and her family settled in the colonial town of León in western Nicaragua.
León is known as the “university” town and has spawned many great intellectuals, including renowned poets and musicians. Betsy’s school, La Asunción, is the beautiful building on the right.
Betsy enjoyed her early years, studying at public school, competing as an athlete with the support of her seven other siblings. Her father was a good and very tender man who always had a kind word for Betsy and her siblings. She credits him with helping her build good self-esteem. Her mother was the backbone of their family, always driving everyone forward. “My mom was always behind all of us,” she says. She often told Betsy, “If you want to do something, just go for it. I will do whatever needs to be done to help you get there.”
During a competition, Betsy met a girl who was in a local Catholic school and decided she wanted to attend high school there. It changed her life. There, Betsy gained many of the values, friends, and ideas that would stay with her for the rest of her life. She also became a basketball star!
It was a politically challenging time in Nicaragua. The communist government controlled everything, including the universities and the process for entering university. Betsy originally wanted to study to become a journalist, but she was not allowed to study in this area because she had not participated in governmental activities. She doesn’t know where her desire to study law came from. “It was like divine inspiration,” she says. Because of the political climate, she was worried she wouldn’t be allowed to study law, but her status as a local basketball star helped open doors for her.
After graduating with her bachelor’s in law, the government had changed in a big way, becoming democratic. Betsy decided to leave her hometown and spread her wings in the capital. She moved there with another friend from university and they went to the courthouse each day, trying to find public defendants to represent or experiences that would help them learn. After three months of that, her friend gave up, but Betsy stayed.
Her first break came when an attorney working in a bank asked her to be his secretary. It wasn’t the job she wanted, but she agreed. It turned out to be a great experience for her, as he was often gone and didn’t carefully review his files, so Betsy was able to study them and begin offering suggestions. At first, he told her, “You are a baby. You know nothing.” But she persevered and eventually he began to listen to her. Her reputation and respect for her work grew.
Eventually, she got a job offer she could not refuse, as an assistant to the State Attorney. “I was so scared,” she says. Labor law was so different from everything she had studied before. She wasn’t sure she could do it, but then she remembered her mother’s guidance: “Don’t let fear paralyze you.” Her mother’s voice motivated her to move forward.
From there, Betsy continued to work hard and learn new things. In 1996, she was named the Legal Director for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Again, it was a whole new area of law for her to learn about. Again, her mother’s voice helped propel her forward. She did what she had always done and studied hard to learn all she could. After ten years, she became a Counselor for the Permanent Mission of Nicaragua to the United Nations. Under the direction of the Nicaraguan Ambassador, she represented her country at the UN in Manhattan for a year.
Of her time serving in the UN, she says: “I have a simple license in law. I’m a simple woman, struggling hard… I don’t have a specialist study and I’m sitting here voting for my country. I felt proud about my hard work. I felt proud about the mother I had.”
Betsy spoke on the UN floor about the issues women in Nicaragua faced.
After her year at the UN, the government in Nicaragua changed yet again, swinging back to a communist regime. Betsy was not part of that political party and was let go from her position. She returned to Nicaragua to find it was a different country. She had no job and no income. She went to an acquaintance’s private law office and they offered her space, but she would be responsible for bringing in her own clients.
The challenge was that the office represented business law clients, a new part of the law that Betsy was not familiar with. So, she did what she always did – listened to her mother’s voice saying she could do it and studied hard. It was tough at first. Her first check for her work there was for only sixty dollars. But she persevered, working during the day and attending school in the evenings to obtain her master’s degree in business law. “I am fifty years old and I never stopped studying. Nothing has been for free for me. I always had to work so hard for what I have. How could I not be proud?”
Over the years, Betsy built a very successful practice. She had everything her career could provide her with – a nice house, someone to help her a home. She was well-known and respected in her career. But she also had a nagging feeling that something was missing. She was divorced and spent a lot of time alone. When she reunited with a former high school sweetheart, she realized what was missing in her life.
Her soon to be husband was living in Bradenton, Florida. After a wonderful visit with him, Betsy made the hard choice to move to where he was. She resigned, rented her house, and gave away her furniture. “My husband is the best man I ever met,” she says. Being with him made all the challenges she faced while moving worthwhile.
After moving to the US, she married and studied English at Manatee Technical College. After graduating, was offered a course teaching business law at SCF, but didn’t feel her English was good enough at the time to take the position. She worked as a Head Start teacher for a while and then joined the Women’s Resource Center in Bradenton where she happened to meet our Deputy Director of Immigration, Lisa. “It’s like a superior power put me in all my positions at the right time.”
At first, Betsy thought she would only volunteer at GLS, but there happened to be a paralegal position open in the immigration unit. She got the job and found it was a big change from her old positions. “I had to be a shark in my former job and now I have to be tender,” she says. It was a challenge at first, but she has learned so much. The job is good for her as a human being and not just her career. She has also made a huge impact on some of the younger attorneys at the organization and speaks lovingly about them. “They have the world in their hands,” she says.
Thank you, Betsy, for being an example of hard work and tenacity it takes to succeed in this field. We are so proud to have you at GLS!
Betsy and her mom!