I relocated with my family from Dallas this past August to serve the YES Prep team as our Chief Talent Officer and have a deep connection with Houston. I spent many days here as this is where most of my extended family have lived for decades.
I grew up with 10 siblings in a rural colonia in the Rio Grande Valley called Blue Town. My childhood was a bit challenging because I experienced a lot of poverty and lacked basic resources that most people take for granted. Growing up, having to work at an early age to help put food on the table for my family, helped build my perseverance. This ganas (motivation, driving force) pushed me to be the first in my family to graduate from college (Hook’em) and be where I am today. It is a work ethic I inherited from my parents who were immigrants from Michoacan, Mexico. They worked in the fields and struggled through many trials as they adjusted to a new country. My dad comes from a family of mariachi and started one of the first mariachi bands in the Rio Grande Valley (Mariachi Imperial-call them for your next Quince).
Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Mexican American… still human
You can’t be the son of a mariachi without inherently growing up valuing your culture, however, for me there isn’t a checklist for being Hispanic. I feel as though that would devalue the beauty of what it means to be Hispanic. We speak multiple languages (English, Spanish, Creole, Portuguese, etc.), our skin tones cross all spectrums of the color palette and our recipes range from no pique to habanero hot! I feel being Hispanic was God’s way of bringing all the wonderful things of other cultures together into one spirit; Afro, European, Asian and Indigenous.
I feel being Hispanic was God’s way of bringing all the wonderful things of other cultures together into one spirit; Afro, European, Asian and Indigenous."
One of the complexities of the Hispanic experience means you often straddle two worlds that often collide, and you have to quickly learn how to navigate between them. I tell people it is as if you’re the valley that divides two mountains that you are constantly trying to bring together but can’t. You translate not only words but experiences and interactions because they don’t make sense outside of either world’s context.
While I learned early on to look at my culture with pride, I remember those moments when others did not.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
I remember when I was nine and we were in Arkansas stopping to use a diner’s restroom. We were migrant farm workers and were headed up to work in the fields of Michigan and Ohio, which I did from ages nine to 17. As my 12-year old sister and I approached the front door, the server locked the door. The diner was open 24 hours and I could still see the police officers and other patrons sitting and drinking their coffee. This experience at a young age shocked me, but rather than get angry or be hurt by it, it made me curious to understand why it happened. Why did the worker decide to not let us in? How can someone see injustice and just stay silent and let it happen? The experience stuck with me for years and I never actually shared it openly until last year. It did spark the foundation for my life’s work; ending injustice, marginalization, inequity, etc.
I have committed to never take injustice seated silently regardless of how uncomfortable it is for all parties involved. I believe keeping the lines of communication open and will lead in valuing each other’s humanity, which is why I have participated in many Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion-related round tables.
Equity means a lot to me and I work tirelessly to ensure its existence across organizations, systems, practices, etc. This is legacy work we are doing by impacting the lives of our students, families and staff, and anyone whose end result is equity. It is this legacy of equity, fairness, justice, success and self-actualization that I want to leave behind.
It is this legacy of equity, fairness, justice, success and self-actualization that I want to leave behind."
About the author
Tony is a certified Human Resources leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors. As Chief Talent Officer for YES Prep, he oversees all aspects of talent work, including certification, evaluation, talent development, talent acquisition, employee relations and engagement, compensation, and benefits. He most recently served as Managing Director of Regional Human Assets for IDEA Public Schools in Tarrant County – a role he took on after spending four years in the private sector as Director of Human Resources for Le Meridian Hotel, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and Aimbridge Hospitality. Tony’s career in education began in 1996 in Harlandale Independent School District, where he was a School Social Worker. He subsequently coordinated parent involvement for Grand Prairie public schools prior to joining Dallas ISD, where he spent 12 years working on talent development and acquisition. Tony and his wife, Esther, have four children—Diego, Xoxi, Alejandro and Natalia.