I often come across people that do admirable work and that have such amazing personal anecdotes. I’m a person of faith and strongly believe that people cross our paths for a purpose. It is not by accident that last year I met Dr. Elena Macias, currently the Assistant Vice President of Government Relations & Community Relations for Cal State Long Beach, one of the largest campuses in the California State University system. Also, she was the first Latina to serve as Director of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)* in the state of California. Throughout last year, we ran into each other at events and had great conversations.
As many of us often do, I would put her card in my portfolio and said to myself, “I’ll call her when I get to the office.” However, I would continue on with my dense schedule of meetings and projects, as we often times do. In February we ran into each other again, this time, I made a conscious decision to contact her.
I was nervous and at the same time excited to know that she had accepted to have lunch with me. We met at CA Pizza Kitchen at the Pike, on a Friday afternoon and upon my arrival, we were seated and talked as if we were two long time friends that needed to catch up on life. I can’t even recall what we began talking about, the conversation just flowed. We both shared childhood and life experiences that despite our generation gap had much in common. She shared stories about her family, education and career path that in my humble opinion need to be shared with you.
Elena was born in San Antonio, Texas and moved to California at a young age. In one of her stories, Elena talked about that particular trip and strategies her mother had to use to avoid the discrimination experiences many Mexicans had with Texas Rangers. From her story, I imagined her mother to be a smart, strong and hard working Latina that managed to drive her children to California and join Elena’s father, whom had relocated to work with the Santa Fe Railroad. Her mother had no choice, but to be strategic and tactful every step of their trip. Elena shared that they avoided stops on the road while in the state of Texas. She doesn’t even recall stopping to get gas or use public restrooms. After their long trip, her parents and her brothers settled in Sacramento. She also shared that while living in Texas there were times her mother bought groceries by entering through the back of the store because she wasn’t a white American, especially if her dark skinned family members were with her. California was the state that offered her the opportunity to improve the quality of life for herself and family.
Through two hours of conversation, I thought to myself how fortunate it is to have an opportunity to meet people in our city like Elena. A Latina whose life experience and contributions to our community continue to create real change in people’s lives. Our dialogue sparked thoughts, questions and emotions that I continue to try to sort through.
– We may not have Texas Rangers in California, but we do have “Minute Men”.
– We may not have to enter the back door to buy groceries, but there are other issues regarding race affecting our Long Beach community; such as the racial tensions in our school system.
I will always remember her words of wisdom, “I could retire if I wanted to, but there is still so much work to be done.” Dr. Macias works tireless to improve the quality of education for Californians. I recently ran into her at a fundraiser for AB 540** students. Thanks to her story, passion and personal drive, I’m more committed to the work I do. Gracias Dra. Macias por su ejemplo y trabajo.
* The Educational Opportunity Program is designed to improve student academic support of low-income and educationally disadvantaged students. An EOP student has the potential to perform satisfactorily in the CSU but has not been able to realize this potential because of economic or educational background.
The program provides admission, academic, and financial assistance to EOP-eligible undergraduate students. Click for more.
Click here for the history of EOP.
** Assembly Bill 540-Firebaugh: Provide a higher education opportunity for undocumented students that have completed high school in California. These students are not eligible for state financial aid.