Name: Guillermo Raya
Hometown: Lewisville, Idaho
CHCI Program(s)/Year: Congressional Internship Program / Summer 2007
CHCI Program Placement(s): Speaker of the House – Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Current Position/Organization: Idaho State University – Senior Admissions Advisor – Latino Emphasis
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?
Being a first generation Latino, I was by classification ‘at risk, low-income.’ I still remember being in a classroom in elementary school and having to do a drawing about my parents’ occupation. Many of my friends had drawn their parents as attorneys, dentist, teachers, all professions that by social standards were accepted and highly regarded. Having drawn my parents in a (farming) field, I never knew why my parents or I were different from others. When it came to my friends and I who spoke Spanish, we were often times put in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and classes. When it came to college, I had no intentions of applying until my last semester of high school. My parents had no understanding of the college application process and I did not fully grasp the importance of higher education. With the help mentorship of a few select individuals – who for some reason were inspired to help me get into college – I was able to fill out my FAFSA and enroll in the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID. I still remember vividly having my parents drop me off at my dorm, having classes with students whose parents were again doctors, pharmacists and educators. I knew that college would be a time to push my epistemology boundaries, be the first in my family to earn a college degree, make my parents proud of their farm worker son, and make a commitment to help other Latinos.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
My first internship was with Student Action with Farmworkers, a program that sought to connect college students with migrant farm workers. Having been placed in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, I saw many of those who I served in the fields as my own parents. My SAF partner and I would present to Latino farm workers on the importance of health, proper hygiene and education, and help translate for them in medical facilities. I remember helping others and the great inspiration that came from the connections and relationships that I built. At this time, I was in my junior year in college and after returning home from an emotionally- and physically-challenging internship, I wanted more. What motivated me to apply for CHCI was their mission of developing the next generation of Latino leaders. I wanted to meet other Latinos who, like me, wanted to push back on the ideology and social stigma of our culture. I wanted to work in such an influential space such as Washington, DC, to be around such Latino leaders as Rep. Grace Napolitano, Rep. Linda Sanchez and others who wanted and were part of a movement. These internships that helped me solidify what I wanted to my professional and career goals to be. Internships helped me build skills that classrooms could not and gave me confidence in many aspects of my life. CHCI, most importantly, gave me “ganas” – the idea that “SI SE PUEDE” could be accomplished – and the friendships and networking that has built my career to help others.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
Since leaving CHCI, I wanted to help Latinos in education. I was fortunate enough to become an Admissions Advisor at Idaho State University and come back to my hometown and state to help other Latinos who, like me, need guidance and support. I am more than honored to be part of my community and to be among these students. I often see myself in my students and it gives me great joy to hear students say to me, “If it wasn’t for you, Guillermo, I wouldn’t be here.” I know that if it wasn’t for others who helped me, I would not be able to help others realize who they are and what they want to accomplish. I never really left CHCI per se – I want to also develop the next generation of Latino Leaders and I will continue to accomplish (this goal). With the help of others, I have accomplished a great goal of mine in May 2015 and completed my Masters of Public Administration. Being part of university diversity initiatives, I participated in numerous programs throughout the state of Idaho and co-taught a university-level course to Latino students. All I can say is that I have helped others and will continue to work for progress for Latino issues and challenges with positive outcomes.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
CHCI had a great impact on my professional and personal career and my development as an emerging leader. Networking is an important part of an individual’s growth. Before CHCI, I hesitated to network but CHCI allowed for opportunities to build confidence in interacting with organizations and individuals. I use my skills to work with teams, which I learned at CHCI, in my current position. Team planning is something that everyone will have to do in their careers, and having an understanding of how to work with different personalities, opposing views or values and being able to mitigate conflict while working towards a common goal is an accomplishment in itself. Lastly, I would say that confidence as a leader has stemmed from (my training at) CHCI. CHCI allowed for me, as a professional, to undertake tasks, work in a fast paced environment, and collaborate with dignitaries/stakeholders all while applying classroom concepts in the real world.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
Giving back to my Latino community is something I pride myself on. One thing that I learned in leadership is that great leaders make change in others. I have been honored to work with students from all over the world and it’s always something that I take joy in doing. Being part of organizations, programs and groups that offer presentations, workshops and mentorships is a way to pay it forward. Take for example the Hispanic Youth Symposium, a three day conference for students in Idaho. HYS is actually one reason why I went to college. Being able to go back to HYS and offer resources to other students and inspire them to continue their education is a value that I uphold. I feel that in my position I help students every day at the collegiate level, and supporting my fellow colleagues in their goals is also rewarding.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
As I recently reflected on my personal and professional goals for the next 5-10 years, I sought to challenge myself. Now that I completed my master’s degree, a doctorate is the next step in my goals. I know that my professional goals will lead me into an administrative position where I can make stronger change for low-income, first-generation, at-risk students. A mentor of mine once asked me the same questions of where I wanted to be, but I responded that I was afraid of change not because of change itself, but [because I did not know] who would take care of my students. I have learned that there are many others who, like me, who want to be part of that movement, but having a voice that represents students is a catalyst for progress. I still want to accomplish numerous things: live in another country for a [different] cultural experience, write publications on trends and innovative efforts in working with diverse students, work at the policy-level for the implementation of education initiatives and see my students’ succeed while mentoring others.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
A brief piece of advice I would tell future students is to challenge yourself, and most importantly your views. The unknown is something that creates fear, but [you should] take steps to make yourself leave your area of comfort. Reflect on where you are and what you want to do. Gain not only education, but knowledge. And lastly, be a mentor/role model. Inspire others to achieve their own greatness because in our final thoughts, we [shouldn’t] think about ourselves and what we have done for us, but of how we were able to help others.