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Name: Chris Pineda

Hometown: Austin, TX

CHCI Program(s)/Year: CHCI Fellow / 2001-2002

CHCI Program Placement(s): Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)

Current Position/Organization: Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas

Name: Zoraima A. Diaz-Pineda

Hometown: Austin, TX

CHCI Program(s)/Year: CHCI Fellow / 2001-2002

CHCI Program Placement(s): National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

Current Position/Organization: La Puerta Program Manager, Community Development Corporation of Brownsville

1. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your careers and development as leaders?

Chris: The CHCI experience had a tremendous impact on my personal and professional trajectory. My wife and I were friends from high school and college, but we did not start dating until we started the CHCI fellowship. We now live in Brownsville, TX with our two young sons: Zeviel (age 8) and Zuriel (age 4). In addition, I later went to graduate school at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government with several CHCI alumni and others I met during the fellowship. Finally, my placement at MALDEF was the first time I had ever worked with an attorney. Certainly, I think this experience must have planted a seed in my mind to eventually go to law school (Boston University School of Law), have a career in public service, and become the first attorney in my family. I learned about my current position through fellow CHCI alum Adan Briones.

Zoraima: Our CHCI fellowship began during a tumultuous time as the devastating events of 9-11 occurred two weeks after we arrived to Washington, D.C. This event set a tone for the year and gave me a great sense of appreciation for every opportunity during our time in D.C. CHCI provided an intellectually rich environment for each of us to explore the national legislative, advocacy, and policy arenas. I gained an immense amount of experience at NCLR and as well as from hearing about the experiences of the other fellows. Although Chris and I are rather geographically isolated in our present location, when we have an opportunity to visit with someone from our class we reconnect immediately.

2. What advice would you give to program participants looking for their “life’s partner”?

Chris: You might just meet your life partner during the program, whether he or she is another participant or someone else you meet while in Washington, D.C. Or you might make friendship and professional connections that lead you to your life’s partner. Every now and then, even in Brownsville, TX, I will run into someone I met while I was in Washington, D.C., or discover some other mutual connection that ties back to our CHCI experience.

Zoraima: I would advise single CHCI fellows to stop looking and devote an equal amount of energy and thoughtfulness into every relationship. Every encounter is a potential opportunity to meet your life’s partner and lifelong friends. Love is an organic process and abounds when we care for our family and community.

3. How do you manage family, careers, and community service?

As working professionals with young children, our days are often a blur as we attempt to achieve balance between birthday parties and board room meetings. Balancing our children’s activities, chess, piano, basketball, robotics, etc., leaves us little time for anything else. Zoraima’s job involves a significant amount of community outreach as she assists low-income working families to achieve financial stability and acquire a home. Chris is president-elect of the local bar association (Cameron County Bar Association). Zoraima’s parents are retired and are an immense blessing to our family as they fill the gap created from the demands of our professional obligations.

4. What legacy do you both want to leave your children – the next generation – about the importance of leadership?

Our sons are a blessing from God, and we recognize that we are stewards of this great blessing. So we pray that our sons will mature into wise and courageous men, that they always strive for excellence and have a heart to serve others. Through our professional and personal endeavors we hope to contribute to efforts in our community to provide our sons and the children in this region with as many opportunities as possible so that they develop all of their potential.