By Jose Jimenez
Chief Diversity Officer, CSC
I immigrated to the United States at 11-years-old from Cuba. I was one of the 14,000 children that came to the U.S. without their parents in what became known as “Operation Pedro Pan.” This was a formative experience that shaped my philosophy in life and eventually led me into the diversity field. During the first two years that I was in the United States, I had no control over my destiny. This experience taught me to be self-reliant and develop my path.
My first experience with racism was during my first few months in the United States. I will never forget getting on a bus in Florida and moving to the back of the bus to take a seat (I never liked riding in the front). As I was moving to the back, people started screaming and cursing at me. I was clueless! I had never heard of Jim Crow laws and the concept of bathrooms and drinking fountains for “coloreds” only left an indelible impression and a quest for change. Diversity and Inclusion had a personal meaning from that day forward.
My goal was to get a good education, work hard, and make a difference. My family and I worked very hard. After coming to the U.S. all our material wealth was left in Cuba and we started again from scratch. Everyone in my family held multiple jobs. I had newspaper routes and cleaned buildings at night, but I got an education and joined the Navy after graduating from college.
During my career I have had the pleasure to work in many fields that allowed me to contribute to my organizations. I also felt I have a responsibility to contribute back to society and celebrate my blessings. Over time I have worked with organizations that helped abused and neglected children, the disabled, and other diverse persons. I have had the privilege to live the American Dream: A penniless refugee able to rise and become a contributing member of society.
James Truslow Adams’ definition of the American Dream, “Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability and achievement” is one which I firmly stand behind. The upcoming generation of leaders needs to realize the importance of hard work, education, and perseverance. I share my story with the hope that I reach at least one person, encouraging them to make a positive difference in their life.