Hispanic Heritage 2018

Stories by: Joe Dyton, Kaitlyn Luckow & Lorenzo Almanza

Courtesy photos


A feature in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Three interviews with three leaders working

to preserve culture through leadership in their very own roles.


Antonio Tijerino: president and ceo of the hispanic heritage foundation

+Antonio Tijerino has found something in his career that many people are in constant search of—a job that they are not only good at but also have an infinite amount of passion for.

Antonio Tijerino is the president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), which focuses on education, workforce development, connectivity, innovative leadership and public awareness as well as promoting cultural pride and accomplishment. With Tijerino at the help, the HHF has built a network of 100,000 vetted Latino talent (15 to 35 year olds) and focused on the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, entrepreneurship, finance, media and other priority areas for the U.S., according to the foundation’s website. HHF also works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and other non-profit organizations. It was early on in Tijerino’s career where he found his calling: service. One of his early jobs was running the Fannie Mae Foundation. Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, who was the incoming chair at the time, not only hired Tijerino, but also became a mentor to him. “I don’t really have that many (mentors), but that guy was it,” Tijerino said. “He was very important to my development, my humility and my focus on service. Those were the guidelines he gave me; focus on our missions, remember leadership is servitude and always understand if you’re trying to accomplish something, just focus on the accomplishment of it. Don’t get caught up on who gets credit.” Tijerino took Dr. Greer’s advice about not worrying about who gets credit to heart. Even though he’s head of HHF, when he’s asked about his leadership style, Tijerino says its to be led by people that are 20 to 30 years younger than he is. He considers the people he works with as his role models, and together they’ve helped HHF created programs like Code is a Second Language and launch an institute for “Dreamers” called The Dream Institute, which serves as a year-round leadership program for young professionals. “I’m very proud of putting it in their hands and truly understanding that our role is to encourage, support and get out of their way,” Tijerino said. “My 13-year-old daughter right now can reach more people than Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Gandhi could in a lifetime combined in split second if she has access to Wi-Fi and a device. Think of the power that are youth has access to right now; all of our programs are based on leveraging that power they have right now to lead.” The HHF programs have helped thousands of kids learn how to code and connect a lot of them to Wi-Fi to help address the equity gap in education and the workforce because Latinos are least likely to have technology access at home, according to Tejerino. Although Tijerino does not claim a leadership style, he does encourage the foundation’s youth to feel comfortable taking chances. Part of that encouragement comes from him wanting to see the children in the foundation be innovative and creative so they stand out in the crowd. The other reason Tijerino encourages risk is because he believes things can change and he wants to see that change occur sooner than later. Tijerino also believes when it comes to service, it does not have to be as big of role as leading a foundation like he does. To him, if you’re doing something that will help another person, you should consider yourself a leader. “I don’t care if you pick up a piece of garbage while you’re walking through a park, you are privileged enough to be able to bend over and pick it up and put it in the trash can and have a responsibility for it,” he said. “But you also elevate yourself as a spirit in this universe by doing something like that. I think when you have the privilege to serve, you’re leading and that leadership is service and it starts with whatever you can do. It does not have to be big things; I did small things that lead to bigger things.” As long as he’s able, Tijerino plans to continue to do big things in the name of service and leadership. “I’m just thrilled that I have a job I can’t wait to get to every single day,” Tijerino said. “I never lose sight of the privilege I have to serve our community and our youth, including the most disenfranchised, like those families on border, unaccompanied minors or our hard-working community. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to serve someone, because you can’t help somebody if you’re not in a position of privilege.” +



When Antonio Tijerino encourages the youths the Hispanic Heritage Foundation mentors to be creative in their endeavors and do what they can to stand out from the crowd, he does so from experience. When Tijerino was up for the job to run the Fannie Mae Foundation, he admittedly was not qualified, but he found a way to separate himself from the other candidates. During his interview, he wrote a plan that was essentially the Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) program. Tijerino explained how to expand the youth awards program to lead into LOFT and how the areas of focus should be on career development and leadership. “It was right after 9/11, and I said, ‘You guys have to adjust whoever you hire and I’m going to give them some ideas,’” Tijerino said. “I laid it all out, wrote it on a napkin and handed it to (Dr. Pedro Greer). I said, ‘Thanks for the meal. If you don’t hire me that’s what you need to do.’” Tijerino’s creativity paid off as he was hired for the role. “It was very creative and also (different) from the other interviewees who just said, “Oh this is great, I’d love this job,’” Tijerino said. “No, you have to adjust, and that’s why he hired me.”


Ralph Lopez: vice president of INTEGRATED OPERATIONS center (IOC)

+ Ralph Lopez is currently overseeing American Airlines’ Integrated Operations Center (IOC) at their HDQ campus in Fort Worth. He has grown right within American Airlines, and each role has contributed to his current seat.


Ralph Lopez’ story is one of unexpected turns, travel, and adaptability. Throughout his life, Lopez not only welcomed challenges, but learned and grew from them to get to the leadership position he is in today. Growing up, Lopez was destined to be a traveler. Born to a mother from Puerto Rico and a father from Trinidad and Tobago, Lopez traveled between the two at a young age. As he continued to grow up, he spent some of childhood living in Spain before returning to Trinidad and Tobago for high school. “I enjoyed getting to go all of these places and traveling,” Lopez said. “That opportunity helped shape a lot about what we may talk about next….A worldly education.” While attending a British all-boys school in Trinidad and Tobago, Lopez learned how to structure a path and gain skills that would allow him to be competitive in his chosen career. Although he had a strong passion for business and art, his academic prowess allowed him to graduate early, without having a clear vision of where he wanted to go next. Lopez’ dad suggested that he take a year off in between high school and college, and that’s what led him to study finance. While on summer break from college, Lopez took a summer job at a company that ended up shaping his whole career: American Airlines. “I loved what I was doing. I just fell in love with the airline itself,” Lopez said. Throughout Lopez’ career at American Airlines, he has held a variety of positions all around the world: mainly in the United States, the Caribbean and South America. ADD He is currently overseeing the Integrated Operations Center in Fort Worth, Texas, essentially coordinating the airline’s worldwide operations. However, his career wasn’t always easy, especially when the airlines declared bankruptcy in 2011. This time in his career taught Lopez how to retain passion even during a tough time. Eventually, the airline merged with U.S. Airways and American Airlines continued.

Philosophy on Leadership—

Lopez has an ever-growing view on leadership thanks to his many years of experience at American Airlines. In fact, one of the most important traits of leadership that Lopez holds is the ability to explore and to continue learning. While going through bankruptcy and through the process of merging with U.S. Airways, Lopez also had to make lot of hard decisions. While these were the hardest and most painful years for Lopez, he knew he had to keep on going for the sake of the company he loved so much. In the end, it was worth it for Lopez to be able to learn and experience new things; but throughout it all, Lopez was thankful for the people and mentors by his side. These people were imperative for his growth as a leader. “I would argue that there is no good leader out there without even greater mentors. And I have been very fortunate to have key people with me throughout my career,” Lopez said. Lopez is extremely grateful for the people in his life that pushed him and were there for him when he needed them most. One of Lopez’ mentors taught him this very important lesson as he was starting his career. When Lopez started his career at American Airlines, he was very young: he was only 19 when he held his first management position. This was a struggle for Lopez because he wasn’t necessarily seen as someone with the capacity and experience to lead. This was especially hard, Lopez explained, working in Latin America, where age held great importance and meaning. “I was seen as a very young and inexperienced leader. Which I was,” Lopez explained. “It was a challenge I had to deal with. I’ve always been very humble when it comes to learning.” Lopez has never ceased to stop learning. Thanks to his humble nature and willingness to learn that he was able to climb his way up to where he is now in American Airlines. “I didn’t only learn from mentors and my leaders, I also learned from the people around me; those I had the opportunity to lead.” +


MOCTESUMA ESPARZA: Founder of Maya Cinemas

Moctesuma Esparza, founder of Maya Cinemas, has a long history of activism. Starting at a young age, his parents instilled in him the responsibility to raise your voice. To this day, he continues committed to bringing to “transforming the image of Latinos”.

Lights, camera, action” are the most infamous words to have come out of any movie producer. Moctesuma Esparza’s motto goes beyond the traditional elements of any movie director. “What I’m committed to is making a difference in the lives of all the people in my life and having compassion for myself and other humans,” Esparza said. The grace and sympathetic attitude of the Latino movie director, was rooted into him at an early age. At a young age, Esparza became exposed to the harsh reality of life and the injustice that comes with it. “As I grew up, I became aware of the social inequity and particularly, clearly in education, which kept our community from making progress,” Esparza said. In March of 1968, the Hispanic leader took par in the powerful high school walkouts staged in Los Angeles, California. Soon after, a number of walkouts began to take place as change was begged from students. “How could I be free if everyone else in my community is not,” Esparza said.His determination to make a difference in society propelled him to become one of the most successful Latino movie directors. “My entire life was preparing me to be a movie producer,” Esparza said. In high school, the Latino difference maker was an all-around student. He was a singer, musician, actor and part of his school’s student government. After high school Esparza enrolled at UCLA, having the mindset that he would become a political activist. “I was a history major,” Esparza said. It wasn’t until one of his professors convinced him to rethink his career. “He said I was looking at it completely wrong,” Esparza said. “That I was a producer and producers get people to do things and organize.” Esparza’s love for leadership and change helped him see things in a new perspective. He soon after, “ended up at film school at UCLA.” “Since I loved storytelling and I loved the arts I made a commitment then to use this new skill set,” Esparza said. “A commitment of lifelong focus on transforming the image of Latinos and exploring of what it is to be human in storytelling.” The idea of everyday struggles and its connection with the Latino community was presented to him at a young age. Esparza’s father played a significant role in the development of the movie director and his outlook on life. “My father is the person who marked my life,” Esparza said. Some of Esparza’s earliest memories were when his father would take him to the movies on Mondays; because that was the only day he would be able to spend time with his dad. Going to the movies every week became a tradition for the Esparza family. “My mother died when I was a year and a half old so we were very close and we spent whatever time we could together,” Esparza said. Esparza’s father was very disciplined; he did not smoke, drink, nor engage in any inappropriate behavior. His father’s hard work and dedication had a huge influence on Esparza’s life. “My father came to Los Angeles in 1918, 100 years ago working as a farmer worker and working on the railroad and traveled all the way to Idaho working on the railroad,” Esparza said. One major thing that stood out to Esparza at an early age was the realization that Latinos have a deep connection to movies. “Latinos go to movies more than other percentage in the United States,” Esparza said. This realization helped Esparza come up with one of his biggest projects: Maya Cinemas. Maya Cinemas first began in 2000 and was rooted deep into the vision Esparza sought out. “Bringing back to the Latino communities,” was on the top of his agenda. He wanted a, “first rate best in class movie theaters that would also generate more economic development, create jobs and bring pride to those local communities.” Since the operation of Maya Cinemas, Esparza and his team have continued to build upon their success by expanding their brand in other cities and states. “We have been a transformative force in Salinas where we first went, in Bakersfield, Pittsburgh California, in Fresno and now in North Las Vegas Nevada,” Esparza said. One big thing the movie complex does is give support beyond the success of Esparza. They branch out deep into communities. “If a young Latino filmmaker who has made a movie and can’t get theatrical distribution, we book it and play it and support it ourselves,” Esparza said. Some of Moctesuma Esparza’s other famous work include his production in movies such as Selena, Walkout, Gettysburg and the Price of Glory. “I’m very grateful and appreciative that in my career I only did what I wanted to do, I only produced on the movies I wanted to do,” Esparza said. At the end of the day, Esparza sticks to his goal of, “bringing entertainment and transform it in all of the working class communities that all under served.” +



Maya Cinemas was chartered in 2000 with a mission to develop, build, own and operate modern, first-run, megaplex movie theaters in underserved, family oriented, Latino-dominant communities. Moctesuma Esparza combines his lifelong love of film, his vast experience as a film producer and pioneer and entertainment business developer in his pursuit of creating cornerstone movie theaters in communities lacking first run film entertainment options. In 2003 Moctesuma’s vision was realized with the launch of the first Maya Cinema in Salinas, CA. Today this vision has expanded to Bakersfield, Pittsburg, Fresno and Delano, CA with continuing expansion plans in California and beyond. Maya theaters offer firstrun Hollywood movies in high-end cinemas focused on quality of design, stateof-the-art film presentation technology, and providing first-rate entertainment with superior customer service.