A Conversation with USHLI Founder Dr Juan Andrade Jr.
Dr. Juan Andrade Jr. is the founder and CEO of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI). And he’s one of the most notable Hispanic leaders in the U.S.
For 50 years, Dr. Andrade has been helping young Hispanics reach their full potential. Not only does USHLI’s Student Leadership Series help students find opportunities – it helps them create their own.
USHLI has awarded more than $1.3 million in scholarships throughout its nearly 40-year history. Now, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the non-profit is partnering with Rumba® Meats to form a new scholarship program.
The Rumba Meats Scholarships will go to 25 high school seniors demonstrating leadership and a commitment to preserving their Hispanic heritage.
Dr. Andrade has 50 years of service, awards from presidents of both the U.S. and Mexico and five college degrees. But his beginnings were far more humble than his accolades.
Rumba Meats sat down with Dr. Andrade to learn how heritage, food and education helped pave his way to leadership and influenced his commitment to helping Hispanic students.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background, family history and how you got to where you are now.
I grew up in a farmworker family and began working in the cotton fields of Texas when I was four years old. We weren’t a blue-collar family – we were what you’d call a no-collar family.
My mother was born in Texas and my father in Mexico. My father became a naturalized citizen in 1943 while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
My parents gave me a strong work ethic and showed me there’s dignity in any kind of work. Our work was done outside in the dirt, but there’s still dignity in that. You shouldn’t look down on anybody’s work – regardless of if you think it’s less valuable than your own.
Before I graduated college, I worked difficult and dirty jobs. I would work out in the fields for 12 hours a day in 105-degree heat for 50 cents an hour. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
There’s a common Spanish saying: “No pienses que estoy viviendo como soy porque quiero.” It translates to “Don’t think that I am living the way I am because I want to.”
That saying guided my future. I wanted people to be able to choose where to live and what to do. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 50 years – trying to get people into a position to make their own choices.
Q: Tell us about USHLI and how the organization supports Hispanic youth.
Growing up, I really could have used an organization like USHLI.
“You can be anything – but what’s more important than being something is doing something. And growing up, no one told me that. That’s why we created USHLI.”
But there was no organization or network to give me the kind of encouragement I needed. Luckily, people around me would say, “You can make it. Just hang in there and stick to it.” When kids have that kind of reassurance, they start to realize they can make it to college.
A lot of young people don’t know what makes them happy. They think it’s how high you climb or how much money you make – when it’s not. It’s what you do that makes you happy. You can be anything – but what’s more important than being something is doing something. And growing up, no one told me that. That’s why we created USHLI. We help young people believe in themselves. We teach them that it doesn’t matter where you start out in life. What matters is where you finish.
Q: How has your heritage influenced your life and how do you continue to preserve it?
Hispanics are very proud people. Proud of our heritage, proud of our culture. In my case, I’m a very proud Mexican, but the same goes for all Hispanics. We celebrate ourselves.
“Having a heritage and a culture to celebrate makes you a stronger human.”
And regardless of our status in life, we’re proud of who we are. Not only does heritage fill you with pride – it strengthens you. Having a heritage and a culture to celebrate makes you a stronger human.
For me, preserving heritage is about staying true to who we are. That’s why I wish I’d had an organization like USHLI growing up. You need somebody to help you believe in yourself, which is what USHLI does.
Today, I run across people who didn’t think they could make it through high school, let alone college. But now, 10, 20, 30 years later, these people tell me they have a doctorate and are college professors. People tell me, “You told me I could do it, that I should believe in myself.”
Q: Rumba Meats celebrates Hispanic heritage and culture through food. What role does food play in your life?
Oh, wow. How much time do we have? Food is an integral part of our lives, whether it’s a big celebration or a Sunday meal. As a child, we celebrated a lot on Sundays – often in the company of 20 or 30 relatives.
Food helps us celebrate who we are and what we are. And if you’re struggling in life, you need that camaraderie. Knowing you’re surrounded by people who are in the same boat makes all the difference. There’s a cultural reinforcement of continuously bettering ourselves.
Celebrations are always around food. When I was growing up, whether it was with 100 people in our church or 50 people in our family, everybody brought something to share. We ate, and we ate, and we ate all day long, and we wished it would never end.
Also, Hispanics make everything taste better.
Q: What was your educational experience? What was that journey like for you?
Our parents always emphasized the importance of an education. My father had a second-grade education, and my mother had a fifth-grade education. Among myself and my siblings, we earned nine college degrees. Apparently their emphasis on education sunk in!
“I ended up with five college degrees – so I’m more educated than 99% of all the people in the United States. Not bad for a little Mexican boy from the cotton fields of Texas.”
My educational journey was very interesting because I was, at best, an average student. But, while I was being an average student in college, I discovered I could achieve more than what’s expected or required. Little did I know this would put me on a lifelong career path of striving to exceed expectations.
Twenty-two years later I was invited to go to grad school. That graduate degree program led to a second graduate degree program, which led to a doctoral program and then to a postdoctoral program. I ended up with five college degrees – so I’m more educated than 99% of all the people in the United States. Not bad for a little Mexican boy from the cotton fields of Texas.
Q: Why is it important for today’s students to have access to Hispanic heritage scholarships?
Studies have found that Hispanics who dropped out of college did so largely due to a lack of funds. They have a hard time finding sufficient financial support to stay in school.
“Scholarships make all the difference in the world.”
They can do the work, pass the classes and make decent grades. But they can’t pay the tuition. Scholarships make all the difference in the world when confronting this issue.
There are so many who have benefited from our scholarships. Scholarships address the most critical problem facing our college students: the means to stay in school and graduate.
USHLI has awarded $1.3 million in scholarships and internships to date. And we try to build on that year after year after year.
Q: How would you like to see the next generation carry Hispanic heritage and culture forward?
First, I want our young people to have a strong sense of community. It’s important to realize it’s not all about you. It’s about your community. Wherever you are in your own life, you’re still Hispanic and these are still your people, your team. Give back to them. If you feel you have won, show others how they can win too.
“What’s more important than how high you climb is how wide you can reach. Because when you reach wide, you can embrace others.”
The second thing is to remember that you don’t need it all. Because what would you do with it anyway? What’s more important than how high you climb is how wide you can reach. Because when you reach wide, you can embrace others.
Where I am today is a result of how wide I have reached in my life. When you do that, the height that you climb will take care of itself.
Applications for the Rumba Meats Hispanic heritage scholarships are open from Sept. 15 through Nov. 30, 2019.