Name: Miguel A. Blancarte Jr.
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
CHCI Program(s)/Year: CHCI Scholarship Recipient (2005), CHCI Emerging Youth Leaders Award (2007), CHCI Scholarship Review Committee, CHCI Alumni Association Member, Chicago and CHCI Ready to Lead Curriculum Focus Group
Current Position/Organization: Founder, Toward180.com Founder, Blancarte Consulting Writer
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?
It was not until the summer after my junior year in high school, when I participated in the seven week-long Summer@Brown Program at Brown University that I discovered that as a first-generation American, I faced certain struggles that others did not. Growing up in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, a predominantly Mexican, low-income neighborhood, I was not aware of the obstacles that I faced, that we (the first-generation Americans of Little Village) faced because we were all in the same situation. We silently fought the same struggle, one which we were not aware of but that I became conscious of by stepping outside of my community; stepping outside of everything that up until then had been “safe” for me.
In reaching for higher education, however, I realized that I would have to defend myself and break through barriers in order to reach my goals. Growing up, I feel that Chicago Public Schools did a good job at teaching us to reach for the stars; to set big goals. However, the reality of that was that we were left figuring this out on our own, almost as if we were pulled by gravitational force and lost in space while trying to get to those stars. This is a reality that I faced as a first-generation American trying to access higher education.
The lack of resources, the lack of funding opportunities made it tough to move forward. One of those resources is strong high schools with a curriculum that is stern enough to lead you through college. Another resource is the lack of mentorship opportunities. I have been fortunate to have found great mentors and advisors who have been pivotal in my advancement; some of my friends, however, were unable to find this. Another resource which lacked was opportunities. Many times, first-generation Americans are seen as “unfit” and because of this, opportunities are not presented to us. This makes it tough since this is another thing that we have to fight for; we have to actively seek opportunities outside of our boundaries.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
My underlying motivation has been, and probably always will be, higher education. At the core and foundation of my motivation, however, are my parents, my family, my community and my Country. My parents arrived from Mexico at a young age and they created something for themselves – and this was reached with no more than 6 years of elementary education. They were unable to obtain education past the sixth-grade, however, even so, their motivation and drive has allowed them to reach a level of happiness. They have instilled in me and made me realize that with education, opportunities are infinite and goals can be limitless. My mom Alma and dad Miguel could have accomplished greater things if they had the necessary education; however, they have left that to me, my brother, and my sisters.
Educating myself is of utmost importance if I want to help others. Education and knowledge is critical if I want to lead. And since there is so much history I can learn from, and since education evolves, I will never stop learning because in doing so, I will cease to lead. And how can I lead my core motivation (my parents, my family, my community and my Country), if I am flawed by not educating myself?
I believe finding your motivation(s) is important because that will give you the drive and “las ganas” to advance, to move forward, to break through barriers and to live a life well-lived of leadership and happiness.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s programs that I have participated in have been great blessings. Because of the programs, I have learned to continue expanding my horizons, and I have learned that self-evolution comes in many forms.
Since my first CHCI program, I have been able to move forward in accomplishing my goals. While those accomplishments have been monumental for me, one major breakthrough that I feel is key has been to become healthy and well with hopes of living past my mid-forties.
At the age of 24 years old, my doctor informed me that due to my weight of 344lbs, I would probably not see past my mid-forties. To me, what I heard was: “Miguel, you have essentially lived more than half of your life, and you have a couple of years to reach your goals, if not, you’re expired.”
With my motivations in mind, I made the change toward a healthy lifestyle – not expecting to lose much weight but hoping to at least expand my longevity. Little did I know that I would learn so much about myself through this weight loss journey, where in eight months I was able to lose over 180lbs (all on my own, with no surgery nor personal trainer) and hopefully provided myself with more years of life. In doing so, I also recreated myself into an athlete – I am now a tri-athlete, a marathoner, an ultra-marathoner, and a proud member of Team USA (U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation).
I have created additional goals because I have been told that what I have been able to accomplish is not something that is easily accomplished. I have been told that I have the power to inspire and motivate others to become healthy in one way or another, and to take control of their own lives. Because of this, I set up my own website to help others reach their goals, http://www.Toward180.com, and I have also began writing with hopes of getting published in order to continue helping others.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
CHCI is an important resource for Latinos and first-generation Latinos as myself. I believe that CHCI has placed me in various settings that have allowed me to think and reflect, and to ask myself, “Where do I want to go? What can I accomplish? How will I reach my goals?” By presenting me with those opportunities to ask myself those questions, CHCI has been important in my life because vis-à-vis self-reflection, I have been able to envision a path.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
As I mentioned, my parents, my family, my community, and my Country have been at the core and foundation of my motivation. I will never stop seeking self-improvement because in doing so, I feel that I will stop giving back.
In the meantime, however, some ways in which I have been giving back to my community are the following: I have worked and fought for immigrant rights. I have fought to keep families together and have fought to stop deportations. I have sued the federal government on behalf of others in order to bring clarification to law and policy as outlined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). I have also been able to successfully lobby Congress in order to pass [a] law that would provide help to the world’s poorest. I have helped students apply to college and scholarships, and have presented them with new opportunities. I have joined various boards with goals of raising money for terrific nonprofits that benefit my community. I have been active in providing access to higher education, and have tried to establish links between organizations and services to individuals. I have also been vocal in helping my community become well and healthy, as an unfortunate reality is that many first-generation Latinos are unhealthy because of eating habits and because of lack of exercise.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
At the young age of eight years old, I was told that I would make a great lawyer. It was apparently evident at that point that my wanting to help others, to fight for and provide fairness and justice, would allow me to become a great advocate for others via law and policy. My elementary school teachers and friends always pointed it out and throughout my life, I have come to realize that attending law school is something I want to do and something that I am passionate about. As such, I would like to attend law and business schools via a joint-degree program.
With regard to my evolutionary goals, I would also like to get published in order to continue helping others (which has been a recurring passion and theme for me). I would also like to establish Toward180.com into a nonprofit organization where students can come into a center and learn about healthy eating, exercise, and healthy food alternatives – with goals that they go home and teach their parents about making better choices.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
One [piece of] advice that I would provide to current and future CHCI participants is: if an opportunity presents itself to you, seize it. If there is a program that interests you and there is an application process, apply for it. If [an opportunity] allows you to test your “plan,” be sure to take it; experimenting with your plan will provide you with clarity on how to move forward.
Never stop learning. Always keep pushing yourself. Align your motivations with your core and keep paving your own road toward your own goals.