Paulina Williamson on Breaking Barriers to Share Smiles

Meet the Homegirl: Dentist, Mentor, Immigrant

by Liberty Acosta

Edit by Laura Wu

Paulina Williamson always knew that she wanted to help people smile. After all, smiles are the window to a person's soul--they're a powerful expression of hope, and they can make someone's day. That's why she was always so passionate about dentistry.

Growing up in Carlos A. Carrillo--a small town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico--Paulina found her passion for science budding. While excelling in school, she found herself curious about exploring the world around her. This passion led her to dentistry, and she knew she had found her career. She studied in Mexico to become a dental assistant, working her way up to the position of dental resident--no easy feat in a field dominated by men. Paulina was respected by all of her peers--not just because of her educational credentials, or superior experience--but because she exuded energy and a drive to help others smile.

But seven years ago, everything changed for Paulina. She immigrated to Ohio, and when she did, it was like she had entered a completely different world. While she was respected for her expertise in Mexico, her socioeconomic status in the U.S. meant that nobody took her seriously. Compounded with her status as a woman of color and immigrant, it was a jarring shock.

Paulina wasn't the kind of woman who's easily deterred by a setback. She started again as a dental assistant, working her way up once more until she had completed all of the requirements to become a dentist in the U.S. She had to work twice as hard as many others in her field and faced many challenges along the way, but she persisted and managed to stay true to her dream, regardless of everything in her path.

Today, Paulina continues to inspire women and improve lives as a dental resident. Williamson stresses the importance of mentorship and perseverance for a young woman looking to reach her full potential. This is her story.

LA: Did you face struggles pursuing your dream because you are a woman of color, if so what did that look like for you?

PW: I faced many struggles not just for my color, but also for my socioeconomic difficulties. These struggles turned into hard work and persistence. It is not one struggle, but a series of them. For example, I had to work different jobs while studying or relocating to another city, which was the case. Also, the negative feedback from people who I trusted telling me that my dream was impossible.

LA: How did your experiences diverge between the U.S. and Mexico?

PW: In Mexico, it was hard to work and study Dentistry, but I managed to work as a dental assistant with my professors, who always encouraged me. When I moved to the U.S. almost 7 years ago, I was already a dentist, but I had to study for all the examinations in this country. Since all the tests and the living expenses are higher, I had to go back to work as a dental assistant here. The biggest challenge here was to stay positive and keep moving forward. There were so many people that recommended me to change my path, but I knew what I wanted and I stay strong in my position to achieve my dream, until it came true.

LA: Is there a specific woman who inspires you the most?

PW: Mother Teresa from Calcutta, for two reasons. One is her dedication to her work. For example, once she started her foundation, she did not go anywhere, not even to visit her family in Poland. Second, her passion for what she did. For instances, she used to bathe the homeless people with leprosy and show care and compassion for them. The dedication and the hard work led her to persist in her path for almost all her life.

LA: Who was/ is your biggest supporter or mentor throughout your journey to success?

PW: There are so many people that helped me in my path. I could not say one person. Some of them helped me directly, like my family and friends, but others might have caused the difficulties in life that built my confidence in myself. Listening to other people and following their advice is always beneficial, more so if they are family.

LA: What, in your opinion, is the best way for people to support and empower girls of color in our society?

PW: I think that getting closer to the younger girls is the best. Sometimes, we get too busy with our jobs and our responsibilities and we forget that connecting with the new generations is key. Creating summer camps or sport activities can definitely improve the girls' confidence in themselves.

LA: What advice do you have for other women of color who are trying to reach their full potential and pursue their dreams?

PW: The best advice is: work really hard and never give up in what makes you feel passion. Also, have a sport that you can practice to relax. Personally, I love running. This sport helps me relax and connect with other people, which is really good!

Malavika Kannan contributed to this story.