Maria Echaveste Receives the Eagle Leadership Award

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by Linda Castillo

At the recent Latino Leaders Network Luncheon held in San Jose on March 21, 2018, Maria Echaveste was presented with the Eagle Leadership Award for making a significant impact on the lives of Latinos living in the United States.

Maria, daughter of Mexican migrant farm workers shared her personal story of obstacles overcome to achieve success becoming the first person of color to serve as the Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for President Clinton from 1998 to 2001. In that position, she focused on issues relating to immigration, civil rights, education, finance, Mexico and Latin America. She also previously served as Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the US Department of Labor from 1993 to 1997.

In her keynote speech, she shared personal stories about her childhood to being the first in her family to go to college at Stanford University. She also shared certain points in her life where she had to make a choices and sacrifices to be where she is at today.

Presently, Maria is a senior fellow at the UC Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies. Her current work focuses on immigration, civic engagement, labor rights and education. Additionally, she is a Senior Fellow with the Opportunity Institute, a recently formed non-profit working to accelerate improvements to our nation’s public education system.

Maria has built a distinguished career working as a public policy consultant, lecturer, a senior White House official, long-time community leader, and corporate attorney. I was so fortunate to have a conversion with her about leadership before the event.

What personal experiences helped you become the leader you are today?

I would say that the fact that I was the eldest of seven means that I had a lot of responsibility helping my parents who were immigrants, who didn’t speak English. And I think that somehow that having to take charge and keep everyone in line and help my parents probably helped a lot in learning how to manage and keep a lot of balls in the air­ — being responsible. I sometimes think back and that had a lot of impact on me.

What are the most important values you feel demonstrate a leader?

I think that remembering to treat people respectfully and understanding that everyone has value. And yes you as a leader have the opportunity to help people move in the direction you want them to but you have to do it I believe with a certain humility. Because too often leaders can lose sight of the fact that it’s not just about them. It’s about who they represent whether they are elected or appointed or if they are business leader with responsibility to their workforce. I think sometimes we lose that. I really look for people who have that sense of humility while also being excellent people able to use all their talents.

What words of advice would you give to Latinas who are on their way to becoming a leader but may not yet be comfortable taking their seat at the table?

I believe we have to get rid of that little voice in our head that says ‘Que te crees?’ (‘Who do you think you are’). We have to get rid of that voice and understand that we are talented, we are educated, we have things to offer and really put ourselves forward when we have something to say or do. And many people will often look at us as a women or as Latinas, as a minority and put us in a box and make assumptions about what we can and cannot do. I believe we need to understand that is their problem not your problem. Their stereotypes, their vision of what you can or cannot do, you can’t let them control what you want to do! ♦

Note: All images courtesy of Latino Leaders Network.

Linda Castillo is the Founder and Executive Editor of www.ModernLatina.com. She writes on topics that empower and inspire Latinas including art, motherhood, green living, culture, travel, and issues transforming the Latino community. Linda has earned a B.S. in Business and a M.S. in Mass Communications from San Jose State University.