Thomas Rivera - April 2016 Alumnus of the Month
Name: Thomas Rivera
Hometown: Baldwin Park, California
CHCI Program(s)/Year: 2012 R2L NextGen
2015 Summer Congressional Internship Program
2014-present, Secretary, CHCI Alumni Association- Los Angeles Chapter
2014 Los Angeles Ready 2 Lead Host @ Pomona College Intern Review Committee
Ready To Lead (R2L) Leadership Workshop Presenter
CHCI Program Placement(s): Office of Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano
Current Position/Organization: Third Year Student at Pomona College
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMERS, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
While I was in middle school, my father abandoned my family and left my mom with a large debt. My mother worked hard to provide for my brother and me and ensured that we were never in need. My mother was and still is a lunch lady in the local school district, by no means a lucrative job, yet she miraculously found ways to stretch every paycheck. When I got accepted with a partial scholarship to a local private high school, my mother found ways to work more and ensure I received a quality education.
I used to complain about wearing the same shoes everyday for three years, using clothes until they began to wear, and sometimes having to be the first person on my school’s campus in the morning because my mom had to drop me off before work. At that time I didn’t really understand the magnitude of my mother’s sacrifice, but I will forever be grateful for all she has done. She has taught me what true hard work is, what strength is, and what love is. She has been the best mother anyone could ask for, and if she ever reads this – Mamá te amo.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
My brother forwarded the high school program application to me. I had heard of trips friends had taken to DC in middle school, but I had never been able to afford them. This was a free trip so I knew I wanted to apply, but the application was due in less than a week. My brother urged me to apply and insisted it would be a really cool program. Thus, the initial motivation to apply to CHCI was the thought “if my older brother thinks it’s cool, then I should totally do it!”
It was beyond just cool, it was eye opening. I got Potomac fever in the CHCI HSLLDC 2012. I fell in love with DC and politics; I knew I wanted to go back. That one-week high school program gave me the motivation to apply to the internship three years later. It set in motion three years of community involvement and hard work to improve my chances at being an intern. The high school trip gave me exposure into a world I would not otherwise have access to. Once I was interested, I was motivated to apply to the internship program for the experience to work within the walls of Congress and learn first hand how the most powerful city on earth works.
CHCI programs are important for Latino youth because it provides the exposure to politics and the world that they otherwise could not experience. There are no other programs outside of CHCI that offer such a quality, intensive immersive experience in public policy. There is a lack of representation of Hispanics in positions of influence, so CHCI programs are critical for Latino youth in helping them develop into the next generation of global leaders.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
I returned to Pomona College in Claremont, California after the program to continue my pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in both Politics and Economics. Since the summer internship program, my coursework has centered on Latino/a politics. I have begun to increase my involvement with other minority serving organizations such as the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). I am currently trying to establish a LULAC council in the Claremont Colleges. I have traveled ten different times to participate in various conferences and summits throughout nation. I have also been an active member of the CHCI Alumni Association, serving as the Secretary of the Los Angeles Chapter.
In the community I have been volunteering most frequently at the Latino Art Museum in Pomona, California, where we try to provide a space to share contemporary Latino art and more generally the Latino experience. I am close to initiating a study that will become my thesis on how Latino issues are addressed at the local level, if they are addressed at all. I have also begun to reach out to organizations that help empower the Latino community and find ways to help them be more involved in my home city of Baldwin Park.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
My initial CHCI experience in 2012 impacted my development as a leader by altering my perspective on what it meant to be a leader. It taught me that I did not have to wait to lead, but that I was already a leader among my friends, in my school, and through volunteering in community. With that new perspective I had the confidence to attempt to enact more change that I ever thought I could.
The congressional internship experience continued my development as a leader and helped clarify my career goals. The individuals I met and engaged with gave me insights into different professions I could never have imagined. It showed me that I love problem solving, learning about different subjects, and interacting with people. The skill set learned working in a congressional office and the office experience itself has opened doors to various opportunities. It reinforced my desire to return to DC some day and help enact good policy for people all over the nation.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
I volunteered at the Latino Art Museum in Pomona, California. I have helped improve the museum by expanding outreach and helping organize events that allow members of the Latino community to express their experiences and voice through art. I have mentor high school students attempting to learn about the college admissions process. I volunteered at the Los Angeles Food Bank. I am currently trying to work with local affiliates of SER National to help their mission of promoting the economic well being of community members through training and education.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
Beyond my graduation in May of 2017, I am looking to acquire experience in the private sector. I would love to get a job that can help me become financially stable and open the corporate pipeline for others in the Latino community. Lack of representation does not only exist in politics, but in the corporate world as well. After a few years of experience, I would love to go back to school to get an MBA. Throughout this time, I would love to stay connected to my community and engage in activities that promote empowerment and progress.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
You are already leaders among your personal networks and communities. Others believe in you; believe in yourself. Try to start enacting positive change wherever you think you can make an impact.
During your CHCI experience, invest as much time as possible into the people around you and into meeting new people. You never know who can impact your life, or whose life you can impact. A little investment in time can change your life. You can make some of your best friends, have support from people all over the nation, and even eventually fall in love.
Take advantage of the limited time you have, it will be over before you know it.