My Mother, My Mentor

My Mother, My Mentor

What are the qualities that I appreciate in the most influential and significant mentors in my life? There are many qualities that can make someone a good mentor for a young person, but the quality I believe is the most important is believing in someone such that you instill in them a sense of confidence that allows them to believe in themselves and excel. Other important qualities are leading by example, as well as providing unconditional support and encouragement.

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When it comes to these important mentorship qualities, I am reminded of my mom, Carmen Castellano. Throughout my journey from San Jose State University to UC Berkeley to La Universidad Central de Venezuela to Yale Law School, I felt alone and didn’t think I had a mentor. At some point along my journey, I woke up and realized my mentor had been by my side the whole time – and that person is my mother. She is someone who has always been there for me and is my most significant mentor.

How do you get a sense of confidence so that you can believe in yourself and excel? For me, it started at home. My parents began instilling in me a sense of self-worth and value from birth. My mom came from humble beginnings. She was one of four girls, and while her sisters excelled in art and academia and earned college degrees, she was encouraged to pursue a career as a secretary. It was important to her to ensure her children excelled academically and she knew they had the ability to do so. Her excellent English language skills, honed during her Catholic school education and Heald Business College training, certainly helped guide her children to excel in reading and writing.

My first experience with understanding the power of confidence was when I was six years old. I was in the first grade, and I remember sitting in the front row reading a book for the first time. I was sitting there reading away feeling very empowered and emboldened by my ability to read well – it was my first “girl power” meets “brain power” moment. I believe that this epiphany was fueled by the encouragement I received at home from my parents, and school is where it played out in a positive and reinforcing way.

My mom continued to cultivate and build my confidence as I grew into a teenager and beyond. Growing up, we all go through that awkward phase when we are trying to figure out who we are and where we fit in. There’s the “terrible twos” and for some of us there’s the “terrible teens”. I was one of those “terrible teens” who was struggling to understand her identity and where she fit in. I was lucky to have my mom during those years as someone to lean on and go to when I was lost and discouraged– acting out and rebelling as some teenagers do. I made some mistakes and bad moves, but my mother never lost sight of my true potential and never gave up on me. Her unconditional love and support was what got me through those years and helped me decide to invest in my education and plan for my future.

Later in life when I was accepted into Yale Law School, my father tried to convince me not to go. He was concerned about me living so far away from home and he wanted me to attend law school in the Bay Area. I was crushed that my father was not able to support my decision. After all, it was my decision to make. My mother, however, made it clear to me that as far as she was concerned, I should go to whatever law school I wanted to. If I wanted to move across the country to attend Yale Law School, she made it clear that she supported me 100 percent. It was that unconditional love and support that gave me the strength, confidence and conviction to move across the country on my own to attend Yale Law School.

How does a mentor “leading by example” make a difference? I think leading by example was one of the most important ways my mom was a mentor. When I was young, my mom worked as a secretary, which was a career she excelled in. For decades she was an executive secretary at San Jose City College (SJCC) working for the college’s faculty senate, deans, and presidents. While at SJCC she shone in each of her positions, taking on broad levels of responsibility and demonstrating exceptional leadership.

I had the opportunity to work with my mom for a short time while she was at SJCC. After graduating from college, as I was studying for the LSAT, I was offered a job by my mom’s boss, the President of SJCC, Byron Skinner. Little did I know at the time that being the Special Assistant to the President actually meant I was the Special Assistant to my mom. During my tenure, I saw firsthand how hard my mom worked, how dedicated she was to her job, how important it was to her to maintain excellent standards, and how she was playing a leadership role on that campus.

In other words, I saw her lead by example and it made me realize a few important things about my future career: (1) I would never be able to be the perfectionist that is required of someone in her position and I could never do her job; (2) some day when I finished law school and became an attorney, I was going to need someone with an exceptional skill set and work ethic, like my mom, if I was going to be successful; (3) being excellent at your job commands respect and is essential for success; and (4) having pride in who you are and what you do is as important as the work you produce.

I will always be grateful to my mother for the important role she has played in my life. She has been a constant source of support and encouragement. I believe that the lessons I learned from her in terms of professionalism and excellence have been instrumental in my own success as a CEO. She has helped shape who I am as a person and as a professional woman.  I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from my mother in this manner.   She inspires me to want to support and mentor other young people.  I am indeed blessed to have such a mentor in my life. My mother – my mentor.

4 Ways to take part in Civic Engagement

4 Ways to take part in Civic Engagement

One of the greatest things young people can learn about themselves is that their voices and actions have an impact. Once this is realized, it’s hard to overstate the changes that can be made in the world around us.

Civic engagement—the act of working to identify and address issues of concern to the community—is one of the best ways for young people to go out and impact change. This comes in many forms.

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement Circle at Tufts University, civic engagement can be divided into three categories: civic, electoral, and political voice. From voting to volunteering to fundraising — or even political protest — all forms of civic engagement carry unique values and benefits. What matters is that you’re a part of the conversation.

Here are 4 reasons why you should consider diving in and taking part in civic engagement in your city:

Voting – Your vote matters. We’ve all heard it before, but it bears repeating. Few forms of civic engagement are more empowering than taking part in democracy and casting your ballot on election day. Stay informed, make sure you’re registered, and help your community put responsible, service-minded people into elected office.

Serving on nonprofit boards: A nonprofit needs strong leadership if it’s going to have a big impact in the community it serves. By joining a board, you can help guide a nonprofit’s executive director to success. All you need to do is volunteer your time and expertise, and act as an ambassador to the organization’s cause in the community.

Protest: There are few things more inspiring than seeing young people exercising their right to assemble and speak truth to power. From DREAMers fighting to safely live in the country they call home, to teenagers taking to the streets in protest of the nation’s lax gun laws, time and again youth in America have led the way for change. The power of protest is real.

Volunteerism: Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Serve a meal at an emergency homeless shelter. Assist patients and visitors at your local hospital. Even if you already serve on a nonprofit board, there is nothing quite like going out in your community and volunteering. You’ll meet new people, learn new things and remember why it is you fight for the things you do. Volunteerism can also open up opportunities to share your passions with the community. Are you an art enthusiast? Organize a public art show!

Civic engagement ultimately benefits both you and your community. Your voice matters, and your experiences can help shape the conversation. So get out there and make yourself a part of the discussion, a part of the solution, and see for yourself the impact you’ll have.

My Educational Adventure to Cuba

My Educational Adventure to Cuba

Last month I was honored to join MEDICC, a nonprofit organization that works to promote US-Cuba health collaboration, on an educational trip to Cuba. My father has always been a big admirer of Fidel Castro and I have always been intrigued by this country, wanting to understand the impact of their revolution. I was honored to be traveling to Cuba with Congresswoman Karen Bass and former State Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, as well as Maria Carriedo-Ceniceros, Chief Medical Officer of the San Ysidro Health Centers, to learn more about the country’s public health system. I have been to Cuba once before, when my husband played baseball against the Cubans as a member of Team USA, but this trip was so much more enlightening. It opened my eyes to the rich cultural and political history of the country and educated me on Cuba’s contributions to global health equity and universal health.

Here are a few things I learned during my educational adventure in Cuba:

Cuba’s health care system is available to all free of charge and rooted in community
Cuba’s health care system is built on the belief that health happens in the community and care should be free and available to everyone on an equal basis. I was able to visit a local poly clinic where we learned about Cuba’s overall focus on prevention and the community approach to the practice of medicine. We also visited a family doctor’s office where the physician and nurse team were the assigned providers within the community and were ultimately responsible for everyone’s health.

Health innovations are impacted by the embargo
We had a great visit to the Center for Diabetes Care while we were there. We met with specialists and discussed innovative treatments for diabetes – including the use of the drug Heberprot-P to treat diabetic wounds. This drug was developed in Cuba and has greatly reduced the need for amputations. Unfortunately, due to the embargo, it is not available in the United States. Cuba has also been unable to export the drug to other countries.

Cuba is educating American Physicians
At the Latin American School of Medicine, we learned that this medical school was established in Cuba for the purpose of educating doctors from foreign countries for free. These physicians commit to going back to their home country to work in underserved communities. We met students from Ghana, Congo, Angola, Antigua, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Chad, as well as American students from Minnesota, Illinois, and Los Angeles. Most of these students were people of color. It was fascinating to find out about the existence of this educational opportunity and that so many graduates end up working at community health centers and public hospital systems in the United States.

The Revolution is alive and well
I learned about Committees in Defense of the Revolution or CDRs. We met with neighborhood representatives of a local CDR, including women that were its founding members. We learned about the history of these neighborhood entities and how their role has evolved since the revolution. CDRs originally existed to promote social welfare and report on counter-revolutionary activity. They now serve as community support entities, working to put health, educational, and other national campaigns into effect on the ground and they continue to advance the principles of the revolution.

Education system strives to be equal for all
One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting a local middle school. We observed the classroom instruction and learned about the curriculum. We found out that the curriculum is standard throughout the country and that school attendance is compulsory through the 9th grade. Literacy is widespread throughout the population as a result of this policy. We also got to visit with students and see a wonderful student performance which included singing, dancing, and skits.

African roots flourish
I was fortunate to visit the Biosphere Reserve in the Artemia Province outside of Havana. There we visited land being farmed by a female descendent of the slaves that had once farmed the same property. The property-owner fled during the revolution, leaving the land in the hands of the farmer’s parents and it was passed down to her. She is now growing botanicals that are used in herbal remedies and has a contract to sell these botanicals to the government. She was deeply knowledgeable about natural and herbal healing techniques and used the herbs from her farm to create her own healing products. These techniques and knowledge have been passed down to her from her family, which descended from African slaves.

Cuba’s economy is in transition
We had a fascinating conversation with a University of Havana economist, Dr. Faustino Corruvias, where he discussed the evolution of Cuba’s economy. During the 1990s, Eastern bloc countries and Russia withdrew their financial support virtually overnight.  Cubans suffered greatly during this time, but the economic reforms that followed have allowed for greater opportunities for Cubans to be entrepreneurial.  As a result of President Obama’s policies, which included lifting the cap on remittances from families abroad, the Cuban government went even further in the loosening of economic policies which allowed for even greater entrepreneurial opportunities, such as operating restaurants or “Paladares” as they’re called, or renting rooms to tourists. However, they also created greater economic inequities within the country, the implications of which Cuba is still struggling with. Most recently, the Trump Administration’s policies have halted much of the progress that was made in opening Cuban and US relations and the government in Cuba has begun to retreat from the policies that were allowing entrepreneurship to thrive. Cuba is struggling to figure out how to hold onto their socialist values while creating opportunity and economic growth.

Music is a common language
One has not fully experienced Cuba unless they experience the music, and I had some pretty amazing exposure in this regard. Early in the trip we were introduced to two local female rappers. We went to their home in a local neighborhood in Havana and had the opportunity to hear about their lives and the challenges they face as female rappers in Cuba. In addition, we received an incredible live performance – a sneak peek into what they will be performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. this May. It was such a highlight to go into their home, hear from them personally, and see them perform.

We also went to a small jazz club and saw an amazing quartet that played everything from John Coltrain to Latin jazz. We also took a trip to a local night spot to hear salsa and saw some amazing moves on the dance floor. We then went with a group to experience Reggaeton, giving me insight into how the younger generation likes to experience music. We also went to a place called Fabrica Arte de Cuba – a former factory that had been converted into a giant multimedia complex that included live music, videos, rappers, spoken word, and an incredible display of art work – it was truly unique and amazing. The music I experienced while in Cuba was incredible.

This trip was both educational and inspiring. I learned so much about Cuba’s health care system, educational system, economy, and culture. I am so fortunate to have been able to participate on this tour with Congresswoman Karen Bass. It was an incredible opportunity and I feel so fortunate to have been able to experience Cuba in this manner.