By: St. Jude League staff
Sometimes when you come from humble beginnings, it’s hard to imagine anything beyond your neighborhood. When no one in your family has been to college, it can be really difficult to picture yourself pursuing higher education or even knowing how to get on the right path. When most people you know struggle just to make ends meet, it can be a real challenge to imagine having a career in a field with possibilities. That’s the story of María and Lucino Sotelo, a young professional couple.
María describes her journey as such:
“I was born in Mexico, and my parents struggled financially. It was difficult for them to provide the basic necessities like shoes for me, so we migrated to the United States. My parents loved me and worked hard for me to go to school, but when it came to making decisions about my education or my career, I was on my own. Not knowing the language and having minimal education themselves didn’t allow them the experience or knowledge to give me guidance.
I started working when I was 12 as a bus girl to help my parents. I remember seeing a woman once with a trench coat and briefcase and I thought to myself: I want a job where I can dress like that one day. My parents said education was the only way out; however, I was lost. What school should I go to? What is an internship? What do I wear to an interview? I had no clue what my options were. This is where others stepped in and gave me guidance. Many took the time to share their thoughts, experiences, and words of wisdom.
I found my voice in college. I realized that with hard work, perseverance, and a little hope, anything is possible. I am where I am today because my parents were courageous enough to do
what was necessary for me to have a better life, and because of those people who took the time to show me the way.”
Lucino, her husband, also from Mexico, had similar challenges growing up. He describes his journey like this:
“Imagine growing up in a little village in a rural part of Mexico, where the nearest town is a couple of hours away by car and a lot longer by horse. Imagine having only one local school, where the education stops at sixth grade. What kind of dreams do you think the kids in that environment have? What’s the typical career path?
Typically, it goes something like this: If you finish sixth grade—and most don’t—you can either work in the fields or you can work in the fields… that’s it! That is my story. I grew up with my grandparents on the ranch since I was two years old because my parents couldn’t afford to bring me with them when they first emigrated to the United States; I emigrated when I was about 11. The journey and the story is long, but the process is similar for many immigrant families. It took a lot of work, determination, sweat, tears (many tears), and the assistance of an entire community of people who cared to help me.”
Their lives today look pretty different. They live in Chicago with their two children and have professional careers. María is a program officer for the St. Jude League’s Latino Legacies film series, a short-form documentary series about living Latino role models in the United States. Its pilot launched last year, and the rest of the series is in development. She began her career in banking at Harris Bank (before it became BMO Harris Bank) after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and Marketing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She then moved into the role of Executive Recruiting for Accounting and Finance at an executive search firm before launching her career in the nonprofit sector.
Lucino is a long way from working in the fields in his hometown; he’s a Chief Marketing Officer for BMO Harris Bank. He is an award-winning marketing, analytics, and digital executive and a leader in the business and nonprofit sectors. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from DePaul University in Accounting, an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and earned his CPA certificate after graduation.
Equally important to their professional successes is their commitment to community and to giving back. Throughout their careers, they’ve committed themselves to investing in organizations and programs that empower the community. They are active in programs that advance opportunities in education, career development, and access to positive role models.
In March of this year, they were the first couple to ever receive the Instituto Spirit Award from Instituto del Progreso Latino (IDPL), which has a 38-year history. IDPL honors a principled leader who has contributed to the success of the Latino community by supporting a culture of achievement in education, youth development, and workforce development. This year IDPL expanded the definition of what community leadership looks like: a couple working together, as well as individually, to support areas of need within the community.
Education was María and Lucino’s path forward, the reason they live the life they live today. Their message to young adults today is: “Dream big! And whatever road you take to find your own success, never give up. Ask questions. Find someone to help you, to guide you along the way; and when one person says ‘no,’ then find someone else to help you. Never stop.”