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February 2024

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Representando Al Norte: Katrina Gonzales

Being raised in a community where your history connects to every part of your present, it’s difficult to find the courage to leave. It is similarly difficult to forge a path and stay.

Questa del Rio News is committed to highlighting different members of our community, both those who have created their paths and planted their own roots in the community that raised them, and also those who have pursued lives outside of the community — through our Representando series. This series is dedicated to those who are Representando al Norte in various facets of life.

For our March issue, we spoke with Questa Village Councilwoman Katrina Gonzales.
At 17 years old, Katrina was a typical carefree teen living and enjoying life as a student athlete in Questa. She represented the Ladycats in North South Volleyball as an outside hitter and middle blocker. In 2002 she traveled to Hawaii where she performed as an All-American Cheerleader for the half time show for the Hula Bowl. It was then she noticed a change in her skin and the condition was not subsiding. Her life changed significantly when she was diagnosed with Vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that causes pigment-producing cells to die.

After graduating with honors in 2003, Katrina decided to embrace life fully as she moved to Albuquerque where she obtained a degree in cosmetology from CNM. Where she got the opportunity for a college internship at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Her assignment was Epcot Center on a boat exhibit called Living with the Land. “Being at Disney World was a blast! In addition to having culture shock, there was a lot of work involved. I had to memorize a 17-page script for a 40-passenger boat. I recited the script 30 times a day, it was a lot for a shy small town girl like me,” she laughs. Katrina finally grew confident in her role and was soon recognized by management who arranged for her to attend princess auditions.

“There were hundreds of girls there. Slowly, we were dwindling down into smaller groups. Then, there were about 15 of us in a room and we all looked alike. It was so weird! We were casted as Pocahantas!” Gonzales made appearances in parades and on the grounds at Animal Kingdom. “We couldn’t break character and had strict schedules to ensure we were never in the same place at the same time so we wouldn’t ruin ‘the magic’. That was one of my favorite experiences of all time.”

Katrina decided to return to New Mexico after experiencing Hurricane Charlie.

Upon her return home, she decided to fully embrace her diagnosis even after her doctor told her she would likely never have children. “I remember my doctor saying, ‘if your immune system is attacking your own skin pigment as something foreign, what do you think would happen with a developing fetus?” It was a devastating realization that children may never be in her, and partner, Justin’s future. It was because of this, Katrina decided to change gears and work with at-risk youth with Teambuilders. “If I couldn’t have kids of my own, then I would work with kids who needed help.”

While at teambuilders, She simultaneously worked as a promotional model for Southern Wine and Spirits. “as a Jager girl, the goal was basically to help restaurants and bars increase liquor sales.” Soon, Katrina was a top promoter in the state of New Mexico. “I was working with kids in the day and promoting at night”

It was in 2013 that Katrina found doctors aren’t always right. She was ecstatic when she found herself expecting daughter Skarlet. “When I got pregnant, I knew I had to make a career change because although I loved my work, it was not a safe environment for me to carry my baby.”

In 2014, Katrina applied to Dental Hygiene School. “They told me I was the 100th applicant to the program and they only admitted 30. Being an accelerated program, it was extremely competitive, but it was totally worth it.” As if it weren’t challenging enough, her first year into the program, to much surprise, Katrina was expecting their second child, Ezekiel. “I had Zeke on a Tuesday and was in class on Thursday for an exam. I studied while I was in labor. I couldn’t miss too much time without having to completely reapply to the program the following year. That’s how intense the program was.”

Katrina graduated in 2017 and began her career with Heartland Dental where she showed her innate leadership abilities once again and became a regionwide mentor. “I had the same technical skills as my colleagues, but I knew how to connect with people. I was able to make my patients comfortable. I learned etiquette at Walt Disney World, I had experience working with kids, I knew how to thrive in fast paced environments, and I know what it’s like to feel scared or insecure about your appearance. That’s what I feel makes me a great clinician.”

In 2020, Katrina and Justin made the decision to return home to Questa after experiencing Covid while living in the city. “Covid really opened our eyes to what was important. Food was scarce and all the conveniences of living in the city were taken away. It was time for us to come home. We always wanted to move back ‘someday’ so why not now?”

Coming home meant they had to build their home from the ground up with the help of her dad Dan, father-in-law Joe and partner Justin. “I don’t know what we would have done without our family.”

One day during the construction phase of their home, she recalled John Anthony Ortega stopped by to talk with her and Justin about their return home. “He was running for mayor at the time, and I was honest about everything that I felt needed to be improved in our small town. I shared my thoughts about everything from crime, to schools, to economy. I didn’t hold back. When he left, Justin joked that John Anthony probably hated me for being so blunt,” she says as she chuckles. In fact, her honest conversation did the exact opposite, leading to an appointment as a Village of Questa Councilwoman in April, 2022.

“When Mayor Ortega approached me, I didn’t know if I was qualified or ready to take on that role, then I realized, I have integrity and a genuine interest in seeing Questa improve. I may still be learning government and politics, but my heart is in the right place, and I put in extra work to ensure I am acting in the best interest of my community,” she says.

In 2023, Katrina worked tirelessly to revive the Fiestas de San Antonio de Rio Colorado. In 2022, she spearheaded efforts to collect necessities for the people of Mora who were affected by Calf Canyon Fire / Hermits Peak fires. “The kids went with us when we delivered the donations. They’ve also helped during community clean up days. We want them to learn and value the importance of serving their community.”
“Being able to help people and contribute to the community that raised me, this is my biggest accomplishment to date,” she says.

When looking back at her life, Katrina says she has learned through the years never to compare herself to others. “I am in certain places at certain times for certain reasons. All of us are. I know that where I am now, will serve me in the future and that stands true for everyone else if you just believe and trust in your journey.Every single experience I’ve had has prepared me for the next opportunity. I have always had an open heart to experiences, and they’ve led me directly where I needed to be, helping me gain meaningful lessons along the way,” she says.

Katrina will be planning the Fiestas de San Antonio de Rio Colorado once again in 2024. If you’re interested in being involved, reach out to her at kgonzales@villageofquesta.org.