JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Like many law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation remains a male-dominated field.
But Jacksonville’s Special Agent in Charge, Rachel Rojas, has risen to the top of her game.
She’s not only one of a few women to lead field offices but she’s the first Hispanic woman to do so.
“Being a first, even though it’s a wonderful accomplishment it’s also hurtful because I always wonder ‘why did it take that long?’,” said Rojas.
Rojas joined the FBI in 1996.
Through the years she sometimes found herself as the only woman in the room.
“That is a challenge but there’s a way to seize that opportunity and the best way to do it is to speak your voice,” said Rojas.
Rojas grew up in Queens, New York. She’s the daughter of a white mom and a Puerto Rican dad.
She said it was her upbringing that helped her find that voice.
She recalled struggling to communicate with her grandma, who only spoke Spanish.
“How do you communicate with somebody who you may not be as fluent with? So that’s why I think that the passionate empathetic ear is something that is very important,” said Rojas.
Today she’s still trying to learn her grandmother’s native tongue, but her culture is something she carries like a badge of honor.
“I do still feel very proud about my heritage even if I am more the American side of it, I’m still very proud,” she said.
In less than two years since Rojas took the helm of the Jacksonville field office, she’s led an investigation into the first Al-Qaeda attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 and the successful recovery of Susan Mauldin’s body from a landfill.
She suited up alongside her fellow agents to rake through piles of garbage.
“It’s important that you are, as a leader taking part, and working as hard as they are,” said Rojas.
She also faced yet another challenge when she was diagnosed with COVID19.
“The next day after I had the earache, I had no taste, no smell I said 'oh I guess I hit the symptom list,” she said.
She still hasn’t recovered her sense of taste and smell.
She’s also donating her plasma to help others.
Meanwhile the work continues.
Rojas said the FBI has come a long way with recruiting more minorities but there’s still a long way to go.
“We have to represent who we are, we’re all Americans, so we should represent the community that we serve,” said Rojas.
She had this advice for every young woman watching, and it’s something she would often ask herself when she needs a little push.
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