I am honored to be recognized as one of SCLN’s 30-in-30 alumni leaders. My leadership journey started in earnest at a young age. My parents migrated from Durango, Mexico in their youth and established their home in Southeast Los Angeles. Eventually we moved to Whittier where I spent most of my childhood and educational career. As the only boy among three siblings, my father set high expectations for me, including that I lead on several family business ventures and affairs. As traditional Mexican migrants, the expectation was that the boy in the family be the valiant leader of the sibling clan. This may not have been fair for my sisters but I am so glad they found leadership paths that made them the successful, independent women they are today. My father taught me the value of hard work, problem solving and independence. I would join him in visiting his properties to make repairs or collect rent. He would give me tasks with little instruction, other than to “figure it out.” It was frustrating at first but later I learned the value of his teachings.
I recall the first independent leadership decision I made which changed the course of my life. In high school, I was dissatisfied with the quality of education I was receiving. I felt that I was not being challenged, was not being offered competitive courses, and that my childhood friends were keeping me from moving upward. I made the decision to leave that school and transfer to another one. My high school administrators refused to grant the transfer and my parents were indifferent. I couldn’t blame my parents given their lack of familiarity with the American educational system. I persisted. Day after day I begged my counselors to let me go. Finally they succumbed to my pleas and approved my transfer. My new high school offered me a new lease on life and the support I needed to prepare for college.
Although I didn’t know it then, that experience in high school made me aware of the inequities and disparities that existed and continue to exist in communities across Los Angeles County. That influenced my decision to assume leadership roles that sought to improve the educational, economic, and health outcomes of minority and disadvantage communities. I knew I couldn’t depend on others to bring about the change I thought was necessary. Why wait? When I started at UC Santa Barbara, I found there was little support for Latino men to matriculate and succeed at the University. I joined various student organizations and then founded one of my own, Hermanos Unidos, which assists Latino men in maintaining a healthy balance between their social, community and academic endeavors. This “triangle” philosophy continues to guide my life and career.
Today, as Senior Director of Community Relations for Walmart, I continue to apply my leadership traits to bring about positive change to communities here in Los Angeles and across the U.S. Working in partnership with community members and leaders, we bring opportunity to communities, many of which have been economically marginalized. Together we create jobs whether it’s for someone seeking that first paycheck or a person interested in building a career. A new store is an opportunity to fire the economic engine of a retail community. I appreciate Walmart’s investment and support of many causes that are important for healthy and livable communities, and for allowing me to continue to be the leader I am today. Serving on non-profit boards and commissions, and leading in several of them, is one way that I maintain my balance between work, life, and community.
My leadership journey continues and will last a lifetime. That is why I value organizations like SCLN and its leadership development programs that help reinforce our capacity to bring about change, and to inspire others especially the younger generation to make their mark on this sometimes imperfect world. As a California Connections fellow, I gained a better understanding of the issues that challenge our great state and made friends with other motivated leaders who I will count on to join me in my personal and professional journey. I highly recommend SCLN programs to leaders of all backgrounds, positions, and ages. The definition of leadership constantly evolves and we should keep pace.