Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 1 (excerpt #7)

1978 James Lick High School frosh-soph basketball team photo with me (kneeling #15) and my best friend Rudy Bryand (standing directly behind me). JLHS Yearbook Photo
1978 James Lick High School frosh-soph basketball team photo with me (kneeling #15) and my best friend Rudy Bryand (standing directly behind me). (JLHS Yearbook Photo)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the 7th excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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When I started at Joseph George Middle School in the 6th grade, I realized, for the first time in my life, that the world outside of Viewmont Avenue wasn’t very safe. I became the target of an eighth-grade bully who would hide behind a post or a wall at school and jump in front of me to keep me from getting to class on time. After being marked tardy a few times, I figured that I had better do something about it or I would be in trouble with the school and with my parents.

Although my parents taught us that conflicts should be resolved by talking, and using our fists was the last resort, the older kid wasn’t interested in negotiations, so there wasn’t much chance of avoiding a fight. When I explained that to my dad, he as usual counseled against fighting as that would just cause another set of problems for me in school, but he understood if I needed to fight to protect myself.

Preparing for my confrontation, I rallied the neighborhood kids to be at my side so my chances of surviving would be better if I ended up on the losing end of the battle. The next day at school, as expected, the bully jumped out from behind a wall and started toward me. I was scared and nervous, but preparing myself for the first scuffle of my life outside of the rough housing I took from my brother Stevie from time to time.

When the bully had seen that my defenses had suddenly multiplied, he backed off quickly and ran the other way. Learning from that venture outside of the cocoon, I got into the habit of walking to school and class with a few friends every day. I had dodged a bullet, but my days in the protective cocoon of Viewmont Avenue would be coming to an end sooner or later.

When I started high school, my strong academic performance in junior high filled my high school schedule with college prep courses and my classrooms with students I hadn’t been in class with before. These students lived in the foothills up Alum Rock Avenue with their professional fathers and stay at home moms, and went to private Catholic school at St. John Vianney or the elementary school in the hills that the “rich” kids attended.

At first, I felt academically intimidated, but quickly settled down and discovered that I could intellectually compete with these kids in the tough college prep classes. Outside the classroom, I still hung out with my friends from the neighborhood where I felt safe and comfortable. I met the closest of these friends, Rudy Bryand, in junior high school where we spent free periods playing baseball.

Rudy lived right around the corner on Alum Rock Avenue about nine houses away from me.  We got to know each other better in high school.  I talked him into trying out for the frosh/sophomore basketball squad, and of course, we both played on the James Lick baseball team for four years.  Rudy and I quickly became best friends.  He was tall and handsome, a born comedian with a charismatic personality that attracted friends and girls with ease.

Together, we had our first beer, went to football and baseball games, talked about girls, and caroused around town as rambunctious young men.  He was the best man at my wedding and I was the best man in his. As we got older, we started having our own families, had chosen different career paths and social circles, and drifted apart.

His street smarts complemented my book smarts, so we made a likable team that would cause mischief everywhere we went.  He would say that our friendship was analogous to walking a tightrope; he would walk out as far as he could urging me to follow, while I stayed closer to safety beckoning him to come back in.  A high school friend and baseball teammate who I still stay in contact with, once said that, “Rudy was crazy and Eddie could talk his way in and out of anything.”

A few years after high school, an incident perfectly captured that observation when Rudy, a couple of friends, and I were confronted by police after a fight broke out in a fast-food joint parking lot on the west side of town where one of our friends worked.  While the three of us were waiting in the car for our food at the end of a night of bar-hopping, Rudy got into a verbal altercation with a couple of guys in the car parked next to us because he was flirting with one of their girlfriends.

One thing led to another and soon Rudy was in a fist fight with the offended boyfriend.  A car full of guys, presumably friends of Rudy’s opponent, showed up and entered into the fracas.  In the chaos and confusion that ensued, I took out a baseball bat from the trunk of the car to protect myself, and within minutes, police sirens were wailing as the other combatants scattered into the night.

When the police arrived, the bat was safely stored in the fast-food place.  The police said that they were called to the location because a group of young men were fighting with baseball bats.  As the spokesman of the group, I assured the officers that we didn’t see an altercation and had no knowledge of bats that were said to have been used in a brawl.  After a few more questions, and despite a deep gash over Rudy’s left eye, the cops let us go without explanation.  With Rudy, there was never a dull moment during a night (or day) on the town.

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Next Wednesday: Life at James Lick High School

Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

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The Latino Decade Is Here…Now what?

Speaking at Gavilan Community College
Speaking at Gavilan Community College

I was invited a couple of weeks ago to be the featured speaker at the Enhance Your Potential Conference hosted by Gavilan Community College.  The conference included workshops on practical skills to provide students with tools to navigate through college and the competitive job market. My role for the conference was to give a motivational talk about the value of a college education and the limitless opportunities available to those with a degree.

I was rehearsing my prepared remarks on my morning walk through the neighborhood when I was pleasantly surprised to hear norteño style Mexican music blaring from a house.  Since it was home to an Indo-American family, I was confused until I saw Latino workers inside. On the drive to Gavilan College, I stopped at a McDonalds drive-thru for a Diet Coke.  The young woman who took my order was Latina as was the older woman who gave me the soda.

A group of about 70 undergraduates attended my talk at the conference; about three-quarters of the students were Latino.  After the speech, on my way back to San Jose, I heard Latina megastar Shakira singing on a easy-listening radio station. I started reflecting on how every ten years since the 1980s demographers proclaim that we’re living in the “Decade of the Latino.” Given that Latinos and Latino culture was all around me that day, it appears that the Latino Decade has arrived In California.

What does that mean?  Now what do we do?

The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates that there are 14.3 million Latinos statewide, which represents a plurality (39%) of the Golden State’s population. A more telling number is that over half of the state’s 12 million students are Latino, according to the California Department of Education. Latinos are part of everyday life in California and come from every sector of our community. This means that a whole bunch of us live in California.

Before racist fear-mongers prepare to fight a Latino revolution or old-school Chicanos call for a coup, let’s look at the reality that, despite the massive shift in demographics, most Latinos still work at low-wage service and administrative support jobs. This isn’t good news for California’s future. Public policy analysts have been warning for years that the state can’t sustain itself if more than half of the population is undereducated and absent from civic life.

So, what do we do about this? First and foremost, we must provide access to a quality education for all students, including the 50-plus percent who are Latino. Unfortunately, state policymakers have historically failed to do this. During the 1930s, 40s, 50s, educators sought to “Americanize” Latinos by teaching valuable skills like eating bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast instead of chorizo, beans, and tortillas. I’m not making this stuff up.

In the 60s and 70s, the Chicano Movement took hold and forced school systems to realize that Americanization wasn’t working. Bilingual education became all the rage in California schools throughout the 70s and 80s. There was one major problem with this, most Latino children were born and reared in the United States and grew up speaking English. The watered down bilingual curriculum was devoid of academic rigor.

When Mexican immigration increased during the 80s, Ron Unz and his entitled Silicon Valley chums thought ridding the state of Spanish altogether was the solution. Voters passed his state initiative banning bilingual education and education policymakers were again scratching their heads. English as a Second Language (ESL) was the answer, they thought. Forget math, science, and history.  Immersing students in English for the entire school day will prepare them for the 21th century.

The state’s response to educating Latino students has always been based on political and social practices, rather than academics. Americanization, bilingual education, and ESL all left out the most important factor of a quality education: high academic standards. Each one of these movements places the responsibility entirely on the socialization of the student and not the practices of the system. If students just assimilated to “our” ways, the thinking has been, they would be smarter.

Most experts agree that a quality education is multi-dimensional.  High academic standards, well-trained teachers, high expectations, and parent involvement form the cornerstones for academic achievement. Traditionally, schools with large Latino populations lack one or more of these cornerstones, thus access to a quality education is difficult. That’s starting to change in Silicon Valley.

The East Side Union High, San Jose Unified, and Palo Alto Unified school districts have all raised graduation requirements to meet college entrance eligibility and the state plans to spend $1.25 billion dollars training teachers in the recently approved Common Core Standards. Parent involvement is also increasing and these school districts have active Latino parents groups. Missing are high expectations for Latino students.

A 2009 State Superintendent of Schools report on closing the academic achievement gap recommends that high expectations, educational equity, and culturally relevant teacher training should be included in schools’ approach to educating Latino students. However, little has been done to implement this recommendation. Could it be that the mindset of our school systems is that Latinos should be working in service and support roles? If so, why? Could we even change that mindset? Look for more on this next week.

Summer in the Waiting Room, Chapter 1 (excerpt #6)

My mom's favorite picture of me when I was about four years old. (García Family photo)
My mom’s favorite picture of me. I was about four years old. (García Family photo)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the sixth excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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My mom was the epitome of the warm and loving maternal parent.  She taught us unconditional love, faith, compassion, and perseverance.  Even during the last days before in her death in 2003, she remained strong in her convictions and her belief that everyday alive is a good day.  While any indiscretion on our part would be met with my dad’s scowls and rebukes, my mom would react with gentle counsel and loving support urging us to do better the next time.

She was our biggest cheerleader encouraging us to be the best we could be.  After all those years of watching me play sports, I’m not sure if mom really understood the complexities of the games, but I did know that she cheered every time it looked like I did something good.  Every morning she would remind us that the day would be a good one because the sun came up and God gave us another day, and after each meal, she insisted that we say “thank you God,” and of course she encouraged us to pray the “Our Father” before bedtime.

My parents, brothers and sisters, and our cocoon on 48 Viewmont Avenue were the center of my universe where I was free to explore my little world. My earliest memory is of an incident that started on the driveway of our house. I was about four years old and playing in the front yard. Those were the days when parents didn’t seem worried that their kids were running around in front of the house. The traffic in our neighborhood was nearly non-existent once everyone returned home from work, and my mom could see the entire yard and beyond from the kitchen window.

It seemed like she always was in the kitchen cooking, washing dishes, or watching over her kids playing outside. Most likely, she was always doing all three. I remember playing on the grass and eyeing the old two-toned orange and white Ford Mercury sitting on the narrow one-car driveway thinking about driving just like my dad. As the car sat majestically on the driveway, I thought about how strong and important I would look behind the wheel. When I noticed my mom had left the window, probably to go to the refrigerator to take food out for dinner, I darted to the car and struggled to open the heavy driver’s side door.

I then jumped onto the bench seat behind the steering wheel and started off on my imaginary road trip. As I spread my arms wide to maneuver the big round steering wheel, I strained my neck as high as I could so that my little head peeked over the dashboard to see the road ahead. Eyeing the gearshift on the steering column, I was ready to kick into high gear just like my dad would to send this big hunk of metal roaring down the highway. There was just one problem, our driveway sat at a slight incline, so as I grabbed the gearshift to make my move, the car started moving – backwards!

The car rolled back slowly off the driveway until it came to a complete stop in the middle of the street. I sat in the car not sure what to do next. My mom screamed from the kitchen window and dashed out the front door to save her baby boy as my dad stood on the front grass laughing. This may have been the first indication that I was willing to take a risk to get what I wanted, and like many other risks I took later in life, not a very smart one at that.

My sister Barbara described me as a little boy who was always smiling, laughing, and playing like I didn’t have a care in the world.  My older brothers and sisters were just that, older brothers and sisters who I admired and sought to be like and, along with my mom and dad, were the heroes in my life. So, I grew up not playing with them, but with the neighborhood kids. We rode our bikes up and down the street, sometimes venturing off a few blocks away to ride in the open field behind St. John Vianney Church, played two-hand touch football in the street and basketball in our driveway, or let the neighborhood girls join us for a game of hide and seek.

Barbara also described me as easy-going and accommodating. My mom wanted me to try out for the elementary school Mexican folkloric dance troupe, so I danced. My dad wanted me to play little league baseball and junior high school basketball, so I played.  I seemed to be good at everything I tried. When I was eight years old, my little league team was undefeated, and four years later I was the winning pitcher in the little league major division championship game.

When I wasn’t going to school, playing with my friends, or accommodating my parents’ wishes, I loved to read. A County branch library was only four blocks away, so I would hop on my bike, ride to the library, go straight to the sports or history stacks, check out some books, and ride back home, avoiding the back fence of the school and other dangerous hideouts like the parking lot behind Ray’s Liquors where the winos loitered.

With one arm steering the handlebars and the other arm carrying five or six books about baseball or World War II, I would rush home where I would excitedly open the books. Armed with this knowledge, I would spend hours on some weekends debating sports and history with my dad and his friends while they sat on the barstools and drank at the kitchen counter. That was my life in the cocoon on 48 Viewmont Avenue, and those around me kept it safe and secure.

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Next Wednesday: The protective cocoon of Viewmont Avenue begins to show some cracks.

Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

“I Have a Dream”

 

Photo and text courtesy of American Rhetoric.com
Photo and text courtesy of American Rhetoric.com

I Have a Dream

by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

March on Washington, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

 

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

 

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

 

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

 

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

 

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

 

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

 

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

 

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

 

We cannot walk alone.

 

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

 

We cannot turn back.

 

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

 

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

 

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

 

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

 

I have a dream today!

 

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

 

I have a dream today!

 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

 

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

 

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

 

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

 

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

 

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

 

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

 

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

 

But not only that:

 

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

 

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

 

                Free at last! Free at last!

 

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!3

 

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 1 (excerpt #5)

García Team #1 (clockwise from top: David, Patty, Steve, Barbara - Team#2: Me and Sisi
García Team #1: clockwise from top, David, Patty, Steve, Barbara – Team #2: Me and Sisi               (García Family photos)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the fifth excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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The protective shell my parents built kept the bad influences out by keeping us away from people or situations that could be harmful. At home, when my parents hosted family parties, a long night of hard-drinking would inevitably lead to tense conditions that could end up in a fight, and my mom would quietly usher us away from the party to our bedrooms.

When I was in elementary school, on my walk home, I would see some of the cool kids hanging out under the trees at the back fence of campus, and they would sometimes wave me over. I told my parents and they warned that under no circumstance should I ever venture out to the fence. As I got older, I realized that the boys were sniffing glue and paint to get high. Many of those kids joined gangs, dropped out of high school, and either died violently or found a permanent home in prison.

Not only did 48 Viewmont provide a cocoon for us, it served as a safe haven for relatives down on their luck or just hiding away from the miseries of the world. It would not be unusual for me to sleep on the couch in the living room so my bed could be used by a cousin, uncle, or aunt who needed a place to stay for a few days while they worked out whatever brought them to our house.

In true American fashion, my dad taught us to be independent, to think for ourselves, and to control our own destinies. We should be good people, he would say, and be there for others in need, but don’t count on others to be there for you, he counseled. Most of all, we should know that they, my parents, would always be there for us. They worked tirelessly to paste together a family budget, and we always had a hot breakfast in the morning, bag lunch to take to school, and dinner on the table when my dad came home from work.

The meals weren’t very healthy, but they filled our stomachs: any combination of chorizo or bacon, potatoes, and eggs for breakfast; bologna sandwiches slathered with mayonnaise on white bread, cookies, and an occasional piece of fruit for lunch; and tortillas, beans, and something fried with the bacon drippings or chorizo grease from the morning for dinner. On payday Fridays, we could count on a piece of chuck steak, fried chicken, or something exotic like spaghetti with hamburger meat sauce.

We could also count on our parents being at school and extracurricular activities. I can’t think of one back to school night or athletic event that wouldn’t include my parents’ attendance, even when there were competing activities like the 1972 World Series between Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds. That night, during the school’s open house, my dad found his way to the school office to watch the game with the principal and other dads.

My brothers and sisters all recount similar stories even though we were part of two families from the same parents. My four older siblings – David, Barbara, Patty, Steve – were born in the early 1950s, and my little sister Sisi and I came a decade later; I was born in 1963 and Sisi five years after me in 1968.  Together with the true baby of the family, my little sister Sisi and I make up my parents’ “second” family.  According to our older siblings, she and I had it easy.  I guess that’s the luck of the draw.

At 48 Viewmont Avenue, we had a clear code of conduct and value system from which we were expected to manage our lives.  My dad was no nonsense and no frills, who taught us, through counsel and by way of example, to work hard, play by the rules, and have respect for ourselves and others.  There was no variation from this formula.  Any lack of respect and decorum, especially in public, would immediately lead to a non-verbal response, a stern look with a furrowed brow followed by pursed lips, closed eyes, and a slow shake of the head in disapproval.

He also gave us the lifelong love of reading, learning, and music.  The tight shelf space in my parents’ bedroom was stacked with paperbacks and periodicals, every edition of National Geographic Magazine published since the mid-1950s was displayed on a homemade shelf for all to see. My dad would get home from work every day shortly after 5:00 o’clock with the evening edition of the San Jose Mercury News tucked under his arm, and we had to be prepared at dinner to be peppered with questions about the day’s world and local events.

Even as adults when we gathered around the same kitchen table for the holidays, he would sit at the counter looking into the kitchen with his whiskey and water and make a controversial philosophical or political statement and watch his educated kids flare up in a heated debate.  In the dining room, he had the record player and later cassette player in a place of prominence surrounded by albums that included Tex-Mex, mariachi, other genres of Mexican music, and the standards – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 1 continues with life at 48 Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose.

Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Leadership is a Tough Business…What’s the Goal?

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Five years ago, I helped create the Latino Leadership Alliance (LLA) Leadership Academy in collaboration with Stanford’s Center for the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity to identify, develop, and support emerging leaders that work with Latino communities. Last week, the group introduced Cohort 5 of the LLA Leadership Academy and Stanford Leadership Institute, and continued to strengthen its role as a respected institution of leadership training and learning in the Silicon Valley.

The LLA Leadership Academy developed a model of servant leadership based on bringing together the business, community, education, and public sectors for the common good of the community. In addition to the intensive eight-month program, one of my favorite dynamics of the academy is the ongoing dialogue the cohorts have about the practical practice of leadership after graduation.

At last Thursday’s announcement event, one of the academy alumni posed a fascinating question. She was deliberating on an issue as a leader of a community group that appeared to be in conflict with her role at work and her personal values. Her thought-provoking description of the situation reminded me that leadership is a complex and tough business.

Although there have been leaders since the dawn of humankind, leadership as an academic discipline has only been around for about 50 years. The academic research has resulted in many schools of thought on business, organizational, educational, and political leadership.  There are common threads like trust, integrity, and the common good.  Unfortunately, however, there’s no silver-bullet to help resolve complicated questions around conflicting considerations.

As a corporate executive, I faced many decisions when company goals, a community group’s objective, and my personal beliefs were seemingly in conflict.  Adding to that soupy recipe are personal relationships and political considerations.  Once you stir it all up, it’s a thick stew that requires balanced deliberation to get to the right decision.  So how do you do that?  One question serves as a solid starting point when confronting these sticky situations: What’s the goal?

The question sounds so simple, but making difficult decisions is usually fraught with a complex web of potential winners and losers, advocates on all sides of the issue, and negative impacts if the decision isn’t sound.  If your goal is to save your own skin, then get out of leadership business.  However, if your goal is to take the best course of action, you must eliminate the noise that could cloud your decision.

Executive management deals with thorny choices on a daily basis.  One such decision I made in my corporate career stands out for me.  When I had secured a coordinator position for my department, the job description was going to be a dynamic on-the-job process because the position was new to the organization.  Therefore, the qualities needed for the role weren’t cut and dry, which made the decision even more complex.

After an initial round of interviews, two candidates stood out from a long list applicants. They had distinctive personalities, unique relationships within the company, and different skill sets.  Since I’ve never made a secret about my passion for providing opportunities to qualified and talented Latinos, the fact that one candidate was Latina and the other wasn’t complicated matters.

The lobbying for both applicants was spirited to say the least.  At the local office, managers and employees vouched for the Latina who worked there while higher-ups and department colleagues advocated for the other candidate who had previous experience in the department.  I had to consider how the decision would impact my personal relationships with the local team and my department colleagues, not to mention trying to keep my bosses happy.

It was a perfect storm where upper management and local office wants, and my personal beliefs seemed to swirl in conflict with each other. The whole purpose for creating the job posting in the first place disappeared in the cacophony of issues not related to the position. Since the pressure from upstairs and my department was stronger than that of the local team, I leaned toward hiring the applicant with department experience.

When I shared my thoughts with Sandra, which I always do before making a decision on complicated work matters, she counseled that I may be hiring someone for the wrong reasons. A sleepless night of tossing and turning ended when I finally cut through the noise and asked myself what I advise others to do in that situation.

With one simple question, I started a deliberation process that addressed the needs of my department, not the personalities or external desires of others. I had created the new position to coordinate employees in the field from the local office to better meet department needs and achieve company goals.  Out of that simple question came a simple answer.

I ultimately selected the person who met the company’s needs and reflected my personal values, the Latina from the local office. At first, the decision was met with skepticism from upper management and my colleagues.  But the new coordinator turned out to be an excellent choice and erased any doubts. I also learned a valuable leadership lesson: When confronted with a complex decision, cut to the chase and ask yourself, “What’s the goal?”

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Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab under the banner on this page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 1 (excerpt #4)

García siblings posing in front of the kitchen window at 48 Viewmont Avenue - L to R: Patty, Sisi, Barbara, David, me, Steve (García Family photo, mid-1980s)
García siblings posing in front of the kitchen window at 48 Viewmont Avenue – L to R: Patty, Sisi, Barbara, David, me, Steve (García Family photo, mid-1980s)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the fourth excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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The first 27 years of my life were marked and influenced by events in and around my parents’ modest house on 48 Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose. The neighborhood was a typical working-class community of small houses on small lots with neatly mowed lawns and little flower gardens on the edge of the east side of town that once thrived with orchards. Just a short walk a few blocks away, was the Alum Rock Village, a row of mom and pop markets, a liquor store, a bakery, a hair salon, a barbershop, and assorted small businesses that included a feed and fuel that served the remnants of a bygone agricultural community.

The area included a county branch library, a couple of elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, and of course, a Catholic church. Next to the high school was a small fire station. Viewmont Avenue itself was a short block of about forty houses. On one end sat an elementary school and on the other the two-lane Alum Rock Avenue that led to downtown San Jose to the west and several miles up the east foothills to large expensive houses and Alum Rock Park which sunk grandly into a deep canyon.

Viewmont Avenue was narrow with rounded curbs, no sidewalks, and wooden telephone poles carrying heavy electrical and telephone wires placed about 50 yards apart running down one side of the street. The poles and wires played an important role during two-hand touch football games – the poles marked the end zones and the wires could be an extra defensive player if the quarterback threw a pass too high.

Our neighbors were working-class families like ours in pursuit of the American Dream. Across the street from our house lived the Ornelas family. My godfather Tony was a sheet metal worker and his wife Marty worked in the canneries. Next door on each side of our house lived widows, Mrs. Wood on one side and Mildred on the other.  Viewmont Avenue was ethnically diverse well before the term became popular in our society.  A few houses away were the Moreno, Romero, Dutra, Marino, Olague, Vasquez, and Zigenhart families.

Mr. Helgeson, a retired widower, could always be seen outside wearing neatly pressed work clothes to care for his meticulous yard and garden. On national holidays, I watched in admiration as he carefully hung the American flag over the porch to show pride for his adopted country. The breadwinners provided for their families working as electricians, landscapers, construction workers, and machine shop operators.

The women worked mostly at the canneries and supplemented the family income by cleaning houses, providing child care, or caring for seniors. The neighborhood around Viewmont Avenue was like a small town on the fringes of a growing city. For me, it had everything I needed and wanted. I felt happy, safe, and comfortable there. It was home.

The house I grew up in was a cozy three bedroom, one bathroom tract home built in the late 1940s. The indoor living space measured about 900 square feet and sat on a 1,800 square foot lot that included a front yard and backyard. In the front yard, was a patch of grass and a magnolia tree surrounded by the plants and flowers that flourished under the tender care of my mom’s green thumb. Above the wooden one-car garage door hung a basketball hoop and a backboard made from a piece of scrap plywood. From the kitchen window, one could see the entire scene.

Inside, the house was a standard mid-20th century tract home with low ceilings and distinct living spaces. It seemed as though key family events always occurred at the kitchen table or at the narrow linoleum countertop, dotted with several cigarette burns, which separated the kitchen from a snug dining room. On the kitchen side of the counter sat my dad’s signature restaurant booth tightly curved around a round table and on the dining room side of the counter stood three barstools.

My oldest sister Barbara would say later in life that we had an “idyllic” upbringing on Viewmont Avenue. My parents made sure that school was a priority and provided me and my siblings with the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities; girl scouts, cheerleading, and color guard for the girls and little league, boy scouts, and Pop Warner football for the boys.

It was the life of the 1950s and 1960s television genre that dad yearned for after listening to the stories about growing up “American” from his friends in the Navy. At mom’s funeral in 2003, my cousin Tutie Sanchez reminisced that “Tía Mary was like the Mexican Donna Reed” from the 1950s sitcom of the same name. Barbara said years later that  “mom and dad created a cocoon that protected us from all of the bad things in the world.”

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 1 continues  with stories about growing up on 48 Viewmont Avenue.

Eddie is available to speak at your next event or conference.  To learn more about speaking services click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab at the top of the East Side Eddie Report.com page.

To schedule Eddie for your next breakfast, luncheon, or dinner event, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

NEW FEATURE: Speaking Engagements

Speaking to a group of community leaders
Speaking to a group of community leaders

I’ve written about failing at my first try at college and suffering a health crisis that nearly took my life 25 years later. Both episodes resulted in life-changing transformations. I eventually earned a degree and had a dynamic career in executive management and public service, and after that awful summer in the hospital, I got the gift of time to reflect on my experiences. In the reflection process, I found purpose in life.

Growing up in a working-class family, coaching basketball at my high school alma mater, serving as board president of a large school district, working as a vice president of a major U.S. company, and serving as senior staff to public officials have provided me with a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes. These stories are my inspiration for writing East Side Eddie Report.com.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few life lessons about failure, despair, hope and the power of perseverance. The purpose behind creating East Side Eddie Report.com and writing Summer in the Waiting Room is to share these stories to inspire others to achieve their dreams and aspirations. With that in mind, I’m now available as a motivational speaker at conferences, corporate meetings, school activities, and community events.

For my talks, I draw from a broad set of experiences to engage audiences with inspiring, amusing, and colorful stories. My signature keynote address is called, “From Working-Class Family to Corporate Executive, Life in the ICU, and Beyond.”  In this speech, I share the inspiring story of persevering through failure, a life-threatening illness, and hopelessness to find success and redemption.  I’ve also developed a series of talks on the following topics:

  • How to Navigate the Executive Office and Achieve Success in the Corporate World
  • Creating Educational Equity to Provide Leadership for Diverse School Systems
  • Organizing and Empowering People for the Good of the Community
  • Be Your Own Advocate: Managing Personal Healthcare in the 21st Century

In addition to being an engaging keynote speaker for any breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or fundraising event, I’m available for presentations as a panelist, seminar presenter, or moderator specializing in corporate, non-profit, and education conferences.  My areas of expertise include:

  • Education Policy and Leadership
  • Executive Leadership
  • Healthcare from a Patient Perspective
  •  Coaching Athletics
  • Organizational Development

Speaking fees are reasonable and negotiable in order fit any budget.  I’m also available to speak to middle and high school students at no cost.

To learn more about speaking services and to schedule a speaking engagement for your next event or conference, click on the “Speaking Engagement” tab at the top of the East Side Eddie Report.com page, e-mail eddie.m.garcia@comcast.net, or call 408-426-7698.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 1 (excerpt #3)

My Family - standing L-R: David, Stevie, Patty, Barbara (Garcia Family photo ca. 1966 )
My Family in Front of Fireplace at 48 Viewmont Avenue – Standing L-R: David, Stevie, Patty, Barbara (Garcia Family photo ca. 1966)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the third excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”

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After a few years of marriage and the births of my brother David, and my sisters Barbara and Patty, my parents found that there were no opportunities for them in Phoenix. My dad was going from job to job, many times working two at a time, but none was steady. He scraped enough money together to pay rent on a studio apartment, feed the kids, and buy a broken old Ford to take him to and from his various jobs.

Later in life, my parents would laugh about the time their car had a dead battery and they couldn’t afford to replace it. My dad would get up early in the morning, open the hood of the jalopy and peer into the motor as if there were a problem. Without fail, a Good Samaritan would ask if he needed help and my dad would explain that the battery wasn’t working that morning, and he would appreciate a jump to get the car started. Once his work day was over, he would begin the same routine until a passerby would lend him jumper cables to start the car for the return trip home. This would last for months.

He quickly realized that this was no way to live. He had traveled around the world as a sailor fighting for his country, seen New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. He knew there were opportunities for those who took risks and sought a better life. So, with a used battery in the rickety car and protests from my Grandma Joaquina, he and my mom packed up their three babies, their meager belongings, my Abuelita Chabela, and headed for San Jose, California, to join his sister Maria, her family, and relatives on his father’s side of the family to find work in the orchards and canneries of the fertile Santa Clara valley.

In San Jose, my parents moved into a relative’s garage until they were able to earn enough money to find a place for their growing family. They found a small apartment not too far away from the town’s bustling canning industry. My Abuelita Chabela took care of the kids at night while my mom worked at the canneries. It’s a cliché, but my dad worked day and nights to earn just enough money to keep a roof over their head and dinner on the table, and there was enough work for my parents to rent a small house in San Jose’s east side.

My brother Steve was born shortly after they moved into the rented house on the east side, and with another baby to clothe and feed, my parents found extra hours working for slave wages in the apricot orchards of the east valley picking the fruit and cutting it for the lucrative dried apricot market. Every bit helped, but they needed steady income to provide stability for their growing family.

During that time, San Jose was rapidly growing and the postal service was looking for reliable veterans to meet the demands of its burgeoning workforce. Soon, my dad’s status as a World War II veteran would pay off when he got a job working at the downtown post office. Although the pay wasn’t nearly enough to meet the needs of their family, the stability gave them a chance to achieve the American Dream and buy a house. They found a house just a couple of blocks away from their rented house.

My parents borrowed money from relatives to put a modest down payment on the outlandish $11,000 mortgage they took to buy the house on 48 Viewmont Avenue. For the next several years, my dad would dutifully drive downtown to the post office to earn a living and my mom would supplement their income taking jobs cleaning houses and working part-time in the cafeteria at the new IBM headquarters in the south side of town. My dad would take every opportunity to work overtime to help pay the bills.

Lucky for them, my abuelita was available to take care of the kids while my parents struggled to stay afloat. This steady way of life continued for nine years and it looked like my parents were starting to slowly build a solid foundation for their family’s future when I arrived.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 1 continues with my first years growing up at 48 Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose.