Monthly Archives: November 2015

Latino Thursday: The Next Generation of Leaders Looks Good

"Thank You" Poster Made by Luis Valdez Leadership Academy Student Leaders
“Thank You Poster”  by Luis Valdez Leadership Academy Student Leaders

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “kids these days.” You know what I mean. What happened to the days when kids would speak only when spoken to and say “yes, ma’am” and “no sir.” Remember those days? My favorite is, “Kids these days don’t say ‘please’ when they want something or ‘thank you’ to show gratitude.

We old timers worry about what will happen when we get older and have to rely on the next generation to take care of us. What a mess, right? These kids can’t even write full sentences when they text. They would rather send “pics” on Instagram and Snapchat than pick up a phone or write a letter.

They listen to music that isn’t even music. What happened to the good old school days when you could understand the lyrics? Earth, Wind, and Fire. Santana. Al Green. Lionel Richie. Malo. Remember “Suavecito”?

That was music.

Many people my age wonder how kids these days will run the place when we retire. The old folks are sure that the world will go straight to the dogs when the youngsters take charge.

Well my dear readers, I absolutely, overwhelmingly, vehemently, and respectfully disagree!

I know we’ll be in good hands when the next generation of Latino leaders takes the helm. Let me tell you why.

During the last two school years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to teach leadership classes at three east side high schools: Latino College Prep Academy, Luis Valdez Leadership Academy, and Roberto Cruz Leadership Academy. Latino students represent over 90% of the population at the schools. The program I teach is a six-week freshman course that provides students with the tools to present and conduct themselves in a professional manner.

The students learn how to set and plan goals, make professional presentations, and work in teams. They also do professional development exercises to help them with shaking hands, sitting and standing posture, making eye contact, and using body language to convey confidence. This is all done within the framework of understanding and respecting Latino cultural norms. The goal of the program is to send our kids to college and beyond with the self-assurance to succeed.

At Luis Valdez Leadership Academy (LVLA) I’ve been able to see the results of the program as the student government advisor. LVLA is in its second year of operation, so the student government is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. That means that these young leaders have an opportunity to set the cultural tone for the school well into the future.

After taking the six-week course, the elected leaders learned how to run a working decision-making government. The leadership group is large. There are four school-wide elected officers, class officers, and classroom representatives. In all, 23 students represent their peers to create and manage events and activities for the school year. In any governmental environment, a leadership team of that size is challenging to manage.

With that in mind, the student leaders are studying the fundamentals of the rules of order used by city halls, statehouses, and congress. They’re learning how to share their ideas with their fellow leaders through orderly debate and discussion. The students are using the committee system to tackle the details of putting their ideas into an actual plan.

After several weeks of intense training, the student government was ready to take on its first project. They decided to have a fall dance. As the first-ever dance in the school’s history, these young leaders felt much pressure to make the event successful. They had heated debates about the theme of the dance, the date, fundraising, the food and refreshments, decorations, and much more.

To have the event they wanted, student leaders had to raise $800 by selling tickets. They had less than three weeks to achieve this goal. That’s a tall order in a working-class neighborhood. Many on campus quietly shared concerns that the student council took on too much than they could handle.

Using the rules of order they learned, the young decision-makers developed a ticket sales and marketing strategy, and created a plan for a 100% student led and managed dance. I’ve been around many leadership teams in my career, and the students experienced all of the potential pitfalls and challenges that any team of leaders could confront. Through their raucous use of the democratic process, they worked through each barrier.

When the dust settled, here’s what happened:

LVLA had its first-ever school dance, they called it the “Falling for Fall” event. More than half of the student body attended. The student government made money on the event by raising over $1,000. The buzz on campus the next Monday was all about the dance. Everyone had a great time. The event was an overwhelming success by any and every measurement.

This gets me back to “kids these days.” Given the right tools and the confidence to succeed, Latino students will be exemplary leaders in the future. We’re in good hands. Today’s Latino civic and community leaders could learn a few things about teamwork and cooperation from the LVLA student government. In fact, so could our do-nothing United States Congress.

Oh, by the way, the student government planned and hosted an appreciation potluck for me and fellow advisor Mr. Osvaldo Ruelas, a young educator who is a future leader himself. The student leaders wanted to say “thank you” for the small role we played in supporting them.

Kids these days.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Feeling Grateful

Mark and me
Mark and me

I went for an annual physical with my doctor at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center today. Dr. Aaron Williams has been my doctor for over a decade. He’s a great guy and an outstanding doctor. In addition to keeping me on track, I always enjoy our visits. This time was no different, especially after he gave me a clean bill of health.

As is my custom after the yearly visit, I walked through the medical center to the intensive care unit. The way to the hospital is a familiar route. Five years ago, a nurse whisked me in a wheelchair to the emergency room taking the same path. This morning, as I walked by the ceiling to floor windows that line the causeway between the clinic and the hospital, I began reflecting on that life-changing day.

For the past two years, I’ve been writing about that day in Summer in the Waiting Room, How Faith, Family, and Friends Changed My Life. The story is about my life growing up in a working-class neighborhood, tirelessly chasing the American Dream, and surviving a summer in the ICU with God’s help and the support of my family, friends, and an amazing medical team.

I haven’t finished the book. I’m stuck on the last part. Writing about my life experiences and the 100-plus days in the hospital was easy to do. Translating what it all means has proven to be more challenging.

My thoughts on life, faith, and gratitude evolve almost on a daily basis. Since that fateful summer, I’ve met many people who have made a meaningful impact on me and brought focus to my life’s true purpose. They’re an important part of my story about hope and redemption. I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

This brings me to my annual ICU pilgrimage this morning.

The ICU occupies the second floor of the hospital at Department 230. I called this place home from June 18, 2010 through August 1, 2010. The cold avocado green walls and shiny antiseptic linoleum floors give me the same sense of warmth and comfort as my childhood home. While these feelings seem contradictory, there’s a simple explanation. For me, this is sacred ground.

For six weeks during the summer of 2010, I clung to life behind the plain white double doors that open up to the unit. In an adjacent waiting room, my family and friends, prayed, laughed, and cried in faithful vigilance. In the bowels of the unit, doctors, nurses, therapists, and nursing assistants waged a daily battle to keep me alive.

The names of those I remember are forever seared into my grateful consciousness: Drs. Mendoza, Rajan, and Fisk. With the expertise of a team of rehab therapists – Suzanne, Sonia, Christine, Jennifer, and Mark – I learned how to sit up, walk, talk, and eat all over again. I stay in contact with many of them to this day.

During my visits to this special place, I sit on a silver aluminum bench outside of the ICU and reflect on those names and the faces of an army of nurses whose names are too many to remember. I say a prayer and thank God for bringing these special people into my life.

Sometimes, I’ll see a familiar face pass by. Today was one of those days.

As I got up to leave, a man in green hospital scrubs was making his way through the hallway. We made eye contact and gave each other that “I know you” look. Seeing his nametag, I remembered him immediately. When I was learning how to stand up, he was the rehab assistant who helped the therapist lift my listless body. He was with me the day I took my first steps with the help of parallel bars.

His name is Mark (not the same Mark who is a physical therapist).

I mentioned my ICU experience with him. I could see his brain trying hard to remember me. During the difficult therapy sessions when I struggled to stand, I used to joke with him that I would come back someday so I could express my appreciation over a Coors Light on tap in a tall frosty glass. When I reminded him of that, he broke into a wide smile and we instinctively embraced in a bear hug.

I still feel the warmth and comfort of this sacred place. It’s called gratitude.

My story continues to write itself.  I’ve been telling readers for almost a year that I will soon publish my book. I just need to make sense of events like today. My brief visit with Mark has given me renewed energy and purpose to finish writing my story. I’ll get it done. I promise.





Latino Thursday: Let’s Play Presidential Hardball

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As the Republican nomination circus rolls through cyberspace, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Yesterday, Donald Trump reposted a tweet with a variety of anti-Latino images featuring rival presidential candidate Jeb Bush posing with his Mexican-born wife and wearing a photo-shopped mariachi outfit. The retweet included the following caption, “ADIOS, JEB aka JOSÉ.”

I love the reference to “José,” the standard Mexican slur. That’s a good one, Mr. Trump. Very original.

Actually, the 2016 presidential race is starting to get interesting for Latinos.

Republicans continue to dismiss the fastest growing voter bloc in the country. To satisfy the Racist Right, new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has already announced that comprehensive immigration reform will never see the light of day. The party doesn’t have the courage to refute Trump’s racist taunts. Same old you know what, different day.

On the other hand, Democrats remain strategically quiet on immigration reform. They appear supportive, but the support is lukewarm at best. None of the candidates for president has made reform a cornerstone of their campaigns. We might be subject to another election cycle when the latte liberal left takes Latinos for granted because the other side is so terrible for us.

There are some interesting developments that may put Latinos in the driver’s seat of the 2016 presidential race.

If the wacky base of the GOP comes to its senses and figures out that someone who has never served in public office would be a disaster for our country, the party’s best chance to win in November just may be a Latino, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. The Bush team calls him “the GOP Obama.” It was meant to be an insult, but that could be bad for Democrats. Remember, President Obama is undefeated in presidential elections.

Latinos are a large voting bloc in the states with a bunch of the Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency: California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and New York. Experts believe that Republicans need to win at least 40% of the Latino vote for a chance to win. President George W. Bush has been the only Republican able to poll those kinds of numbers since Latinos have emerged as a key voting bloc.

Only 18% of Latino registered voters are Republican. That means all registered GOP Latino voters have to cast a vote for their party’s nominee and over 20% of registered Democrats and independents have to crossover for a Republican to win. If Republican Latinos vote against their party for any reason, the GOP has big problems.

However, if the bilingual Sen. Rubio gets the Republican nomination and moderates his stance on immigration reform, the Democrats could be in trouble. He could saturate the Spanish language airwaves in his own voice to woo Latino independents and some conservative Democrats. This could be enough to get to the elusive 40% the GOP needs to secure a home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So what does this all mean? Latino voters have a shot to decide who will be the next President of the United States.

Let me explain.

Last week, a group of Latino GOP leaders made an ultimatum to the party. Stop disparaging the Latino community or else. The threat was directed to Mr. Trump, but it was clear that the demand could include others. Rosario Marin, the former Republican Treasurer of the United States, said, “Heed our warning, don’t expect us to come to your side during the general election…If you are not with us now, we will not be with you then.” These are tough words, indeed.

A Latino Republican rebellion could cause them to stay home on Election Day or vote Democrat. In both cases, the GOP has no chance to win. Of course, this probably won’t happen if the group of influential Latino Republican leaders gets its way or if Sen. Rubio is the nominee

If the GOP gets its act together and heeds Ms. Marin’s warning, things could get awfully close in the General Election next fall. In that case, Latino Democrats have to come out in big numbers for the Democratic nominee to prevail.

That brings us to the Democrats.

The Democratic Party historically has been favorable to Latino issues, but only as a sideshow. Let’s be honest, the party has taken the Latino vote for granted since the “Viva Kennedy” campaign in 1960. For more than a half century, we’ve been a loyal and automatic yes vote for the Democratic ticket.

President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise for comprehensive immigration reform took a back seat during his administration, yet Latinos voted for him overwhelmingly in 2012. Our community can’t let the Dems slide anymore. This time is different. The Democratic Party needs Latinos.

I tip my cap to former Treasurer Marin and her cohorts for having the courage to tell the GOP the way it’s going to be. If their party listens, it has a chance to win back the White House.

Latino Democratic leaders should take a cue from their Republican counterparts and let the party know that we no longer want to be relegated to the back seat. Comprehensive immigration reform is our issue. It crosses party lines. People need to safely come out of the shadows, families need to stay together. If the Democratic ticket won’t make this issue the centerpiece of its platform, Latinos should consider staying home next November.

Then, as we Latinos like to say, “Let’s see what happens.”




Monday Meanderings: Staying Young at Heart

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Later this week, I’ll celebrate my 52nd birthday. Turning 30, 40, and even 50, was no big deal for me. Even 51 didn’t seem to register as a transition point from regular adulthood to real adulthood. But for some reason, the idea of 52 is making me rethink this whole old guy thing.

I’ve always been young at heart. I’ve never wanted to really be a responsible grown-up. Yeah, I got married, bought a house, had kids, and spent most of my waking hours on the treadmill of life trying to stay one step ahead of the next batch of bills that was sure to arrive in the mail. But, I never let it stop me from channeling my inner kid.

I love to party!

With some music, a little dancing, and a few (too many) adult beverages, I’m easily transformed into the irrepressible adolescent that lives inside of a body that has seen better days.

My daughters keep me up to date with the latest music, fashion, and phrases. Like I low-key want a cheeseburger right now (unfortunately, my cardiologist-recommended no-sodium, low-fat diet doesn’t allow such a thing). Oh, well.


I love hip-hop and alternative music. I like low-top navy blue Chucks, Vans, skinny jeans, and slim-fitting suits. Really, I do.

I’m connected too. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. I text, Instant Message, Google, YouTube, and Facetime. My Smartphone has become an extension of my left hand.

I’ve always scoffed at old fogeys who begin sentences with, “kids these days” or “in the old days.” Times change. Each generation brings new and exciting ways of doing things. To those who yearn for the past, get with the program, I implore.

A couple of weeks ago, everything changed. I was at the Delta terminal at La Guardia Airport in New York. The place is super high-tech. Almost every chair has an outlet to charge electronic devices. There is a bank of i-Pad stations where I’m sure phone booths used to sit.

Looking for something to eat before my flight, I walked by several restaurants. I noticed that every establishment had an electronic ordering device. When I sat down to order, I ran into a problem. There was no way to communicate that I needed salt-free options, a side of fruit instead of fries.

When I asked the server, she curtly told me that everything available was on the computer as she whisked by to leave a plate of food on another table. Yeah, but…I started to say. I wasn’t able to finish my sentence as she swiftly turned the corner to deliver food to the other side of the restaurant.

Are you kidding me? What happened to the good old days when waiters and waitresses greeted you with a smile and a helping hand? I sat like a grumpy old man eating a sandwich I really didn’t want and longingly staring at fries I couldn’t eat, only to pay the same machine I ordered from.

And then, to my horror, the device asked for a tip! What had the world come to?

Bam! There it was. I said it. I sounded like a bitter senior citizen decrying new-fangled things. I started questioning if I was from a bygone era when people actually talked with each other. I like to talk. I like to give and get hugs. I like to look someone in the eye when having a conversation. Was I a man of the 20th century? Did the train of progress leave me at the depot?

I hope not. I love progress and everything it brings to our lives and culture. But, I have to say that I’m perplexed when I see a young couple sitting in a restaurant booth on their respective hand-helds instead of flirtatiously giving each other goo goo eyes. There’s nothing like a warm smile and human interaction. No device can replace that.

In the meantime, I plan to celebrate my birthday with my wife over a nice dinner. I’ll gaze into her beautiful eyes and we’ll talk about whatever crosses our minds. I might even entertain sipping good old-fashioned bourbon over ice as a nightcap.

On the other hand, pounding a few Mike’s Hard Lemonades and dancing to Drake and DJ Mustard sounds like more fun. I’ll Snapchat my daughters and nieces and nephews, and share pics on Instagram with the world. I might even invite my old fogey friends who are on the couch watching TV and complaining about “kids these days.” Of course, I’ll have to call them. They’re soooo 20th century!