Lilyan Prado Carrillo - Alumni Highlight
Name: Lilyan Prado Carrillo
Hometown: Denton, Texas
CHCI Program(s)/Year: Summer Intern 2002
CHCI Program Placement(s): Congressman Gene Greens’ Office
Current Position/Organization: Bilingual Specialist, Denton ISD/ Professional Youth Speaker, Coolspeak, Inc./ Chair & State Representative for the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas-Denton Chapter
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?
I migrated to the United States from Guatemala when I was four years old. Raised solely by my father, J. Luis Prado, I has always understood the importance of education. My dad, who often worked two jobs to support our family, instilled in me the examples of hard work and perseverance that ultimately led me to go to college, as was his expectation for me all along.
I remember working alongside my father at the age of 11, cleaning houses to make a little extra income while he did they yard work outside. In high school, I did the best I could juggling working full time with schoolwork and sports until it eventually caused me to drop out of school during the first semester of my senior year. But, with encouragement from my family, special friends, teachers, programs like Upward Bound and their dedicated staff, I was able to return to school and graduate with an advanced diploma on time with my class.
Although my dads’ dream was for me to attend college, making it a reality proved more difficult. Through guidance from Upward Bound, a federally funded program, I was able attend a junior college where I had to fund my own education costs by working up to 50 hours per week and going to school part time because of my immigration status in the country. After years of battling with immigrations attorneys, paying excessive INS fees, I finally received my permanent residency 10 days before I expired (my 21st birthday), and only then was I able to apply for a 4 year university. The following semester I transferred to and graduated from Texas Woman’s University, where I received a full scholarship and quickly became a student leader under the guidance of many amazing mentors. In 2002, I was one of 30 students nationwide, to be awarded a congressional internship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
When I first heard Rocio talk about CHCI, I was immediately interested and so impressed. But, as soon as I heard they only took 30 students nationwide, I immediately knew I could not be one of the students selected. Had it not been for my mentor Gus Cedillo, who was sitting next to me at the workshop CHCI was presenting, I would have never applied. He insisted for weeks for me to send in my application. In a million years, I would have never thought I was smart enough or good enough to be part of such an amazing organization. When I arrived in D.C. and met the other 29 student in my cohort, I was just as impressed and still wondered who had made a mistake to allow me to be there. In D.C. my world opened up! I loved everything about the experience. Although fear and loneliness presented themselves at times, feelings of pride and motivation/drive overwhelmed me and challenged me to keep going and keep up. The talks on Fridays that exposed me to topics I had never heard discussed before challenged me and forced me to grow; the receptions we were honored to be able to attend right alongside with congressmen and congresswomen, senators and chiefs of staff; the briefings we sat in on Capitol Hill; the late nights in our apartments talking about world politics; dancing to salsa music in the halls with other interns from every part of the country- arguing over west coast salsa and NY mambo and which is best..; exploring D.C., dancing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the rain, trying food I had never tried! It was truly one of the best times in my life and I am humbled today to say that I am an alumni of such an amazing organization and part of an insanely wealthy network, in human capitol! My learning didn’t stop after those 8 weeks in DC. While interning, I learned about so many other Latino organizations, what they do to advocate for the millions of Latinos in this country, and developed a hunger to do the same. I became affiliated with them and using them as resources when I returned home. I became of member of LULAC, as well as volunteered with NCLR’s Líderes program for years. I’ve often referred people to MALDEF, NALEO, etc! It was insane how much I didn’t know I didn’t know!
As far as the importance for today’s youth… I would say essential! I tell anyone who will listen and encourage them to apply, even if their interest is not connected to politics or public service. Being on the Hill is massive and our worlds and professions, interests and causes, are all so interconnected that you never know when the experience would prove more than beneficial to each young person.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
Since graduating from Texas Women’s University, I have dedicated my life to education both inside the classroom and outside. My passion has been working in high need areas with at-risk youth making sure that all students and parents, with no regard to background, know that they have the opportunity to access higher education. I have had the privilege of teaching ESL for middle school students and serving as a bilingual educator and specialist for 2 elementary schools. I worked for 8 years as a financial aid administrator and scholarship program director at the University of North Texas, and in 2006 was selected as the National Spokesperson for The Sallie Mae Fund where I was able to speak in front of 40,000+ students in 35 different states. I married my husband after my tour ended, and today we have 5 wonderful children. Albert, 20, is a completing boot camp to be a United States Marine; Michael, 19, is a college football player at a JUCO in Texas; Isaac, 15, is a sophomore in High School and football player; Ayanna, 8, and 2nd grader and amazing soccer player; and Camila, 3, an up and coming gymnast! In 2013, I completed my Master of Public Administration at UNT and today, I serve as the bilingual specialist at Lee Elementary, where my daughter attends school and I continue to travel across the country to talk to youth, their parents, and teachers about the power of education, alongside other amazing youth speakers through Coolspeak, Inc. I enjoy creating program and curriculum, all meant to inspire, prepare, motivate, and develop educated, healthy, and happy young women across the country.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
I can safely say that CHCI was the first time I felt truly empowered and like the work that I do, or could do one day, could really make a difference in the lives of others. Talking and learning from people on the Hill, seeing the networks that existed, the decision making power that individuals had and the impact that they were able to make, really made me feel bold enough to think that one day, I’d be capable of doing that type of work and on a smaller level, was already doing it. The people that CHCI put us in contact with, from the elected officials to the grassroots organizers for our community service projects, helped me realize that I didn’t or don’t have to be perfect in order to make a positive change in my community. I just have to be passionate, and hardworking, transparent, and dedicated to the collective advancement of our community. It’s not about me, or just one person, it’s about all of us.
During one of our meetings, a retired senator I believe, asked the room full of interns the following questions. He asked, “On the ladder of success, how many of you see yourself reaching up?” Of course, in our panty hose and dark colored suites, sweaty from the July heat just outside the room walls, we all raised our hand saying we reach up! When he asked the same question, but about reaching down, only one person raised their hand. Once she lowered her hand, he began speaking and commended all of us for being ambitious and hungry to succeed, and explained that he had no doubt we would be successful indeed. But, for the one person that said she’d also reach down, he had a heartfelt thank you, because it’d mean that she’d lift others up with her. I’ve never forgotten that, and every time I speak, anywhere in the country, I end my message with that very same question. My favorite quote from Cesar Chavez states, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for our own.” My internship, CHCI, taught me that.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
My life’s mission is spreading awareness and hope, that higher education is accessible for all. And while, it may not always make you rich, it will improve your quality of life. Denton is my hometown, and here I strive to share that message in our local schools, churches, and community organizations. To me, it is also important to be visible for our young people and be civically engaged to ensure representation of our community, at the local level. I am a member of our local LULAC Chapter, and serve as Chair for the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas-Denton Chapter. I also enjoy visiting with parent groups, educators, and high school and university youth groups and offer any services I am able to provide.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
In the next 5-10 years, I hope to still be speaking to youth and encouraging them to tap into the power they have inside. If it’s in God’s will for me, I’d love to run for office at the local or state level and impact change in my community. It would be a dream to one day return to congress as an elected official representing my very conservative state. I would also love to do mission work in other countries and start a non-profit organization to mentor young ladies. For now, I take it day by day, knowing that I’m where God wants me, but look forward to the plans he has set out for me and my family.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Seize every opportunity. Apply for every scholarship, every internship, get your higher education and don’t wait on that masters or PhD! Be transparent and vulnerable, leave pride and arrogance aside. Be quick to accept help when people are offering, and even quicker to give help when others need it. Don’t forget your roots, and never set limitations on what your life can become. And last, always give credit where credit is due. For years, when I thought about heroes and trailblazers, I thought of famous leaders I read books about in history class, and although they should have warm places in our hearts, I realized that all along, one of the bravest trailblazers alive was sitting across from me, on Sunday mornings, eating huevitos rancheros with tortillas… my dad. Without formal education, my dad’s hopes for me and expectations of me, gave me a life worth living.