Pressure Creates Diamonds
Cinthia Flores | Policy Counsel, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights
Cinthia Flores is an internationally and nationally-recognized leader in community engagement and governance. This Latina trailblazer is passionate about immigrant and worker rights. She's an advocate for social change via law and policy. She is an attorney, political strategist and public opinion influencer. In 2009, she served as the first Latina President of the Undergraduate Students Association Council at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the most applied-to university in the United States. She was appointed as the 2013-2014 student regent by the University of California Board of Regents. This is her story.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California (South Central/Echo Park area). I was born to a Salvadoran immigrant mother and am first generation [American].
TELL us A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY TO WHERE YOU'VE GOTTEN TO TODAY.
I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school. It was a unique and [at times] a lonely experience. I didn’t have many people to guide me through the higher education and law school process, so in that regard I felt alone. What drove me to be able to accomplish what I have accomplished [so far] is a clear understanding of the limitations that my family experienced – public assistance, low income community, few access to resources – and I transformed these limitations into motivation and inspiration.
My story is about pushing the boundaries of my own expectations of myself . I [grew up] cleaning houses with my aunt and worked in the garment industry with my mother. [This experience taught me] hard work ethic. I channeled this into those avenues that were [accessible] to me, like school and extracurricular activities. I enjoyed being active and having agency over my future. I became addicted [to the mindset of] ‘I want this so I’m going to put the work into it, reap the benefits and push even more [next time]’. I like proving to myself that I am who I think I am and I like the feeling of raising the stakes. I’m an adrenaline junky.
Ultimately, I have a deep commitment to utilizing the resources and opportunities that have been granted to me and to ensure they are granted to others.
TELL us ONE WAY EXERCISING LEADERSHIP HAS ALWAYS COME EASY TO YOU, AND ONE WAY IT HAS CHALLENGED YOU.
I’m grounded in values – equity, opportunity, fairness – so decisions come very easy to me. Because of this, I very rarely have conflicts in my decision-making capacity as a leader. I will do what’s appropriate or what my constituency requires of me. I have no problem making choices that are unpopular because I am rooted in these values.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the choices that I make and that are rooted in these values – equity, opportunity, fairness – don’t always align with my personal interests or well-being. This is challenging. I’ve made decisions with real potential consequences that could [negatively impact] my family and loved ones. But, I ultimately recognize my responsibility to push, regardless of potential retribution.
Name one of the most satisfying leadership roles you have had, and briefly tell me what made it so.
Serving on the Board of Latinas Lead CA (LLCA). LLCA is a political action committee dedicated to electing Latinas at the local, state, and federal level. LLCA promotes and facilitates the mission of investing in women members of the Latinx community to lead in politics. Serving on the Board provides me with the opportunity to engage with exemplary Latinas, while working toward racial and gender political parity - what more could I ask for!?
What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?
Best: Embracing myself. Once I was able to fully embrace myself - my heritage, background, accent, upbringing, etc. - I became limitless.
Worst: Not trusting my instinct. Those decisions that I've made opposite my instinct usually don't yield the best results.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Leadership has [historically] manifested itself in a singular form – white, heterosexual male. Women have had to emulate this type of leadership for so long that it has undercut different styles of leadership, and this has led to a hegemonic leadership style. Our [societal] challenge is to embrace and reward different types of leaders. Until we do that, equity in leadership will not improve.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
In my humble opinion, the greatest challenge facing women of my generation is the deconstruction of the term "woman." It is not enough for us to join together as "women." We must embrace the diversity within our gender. We must redefine "women" within an intersectional framework to include an analysis of race, socio-economic status, queer folks, transgender women, etc. Until we are able to fully embrace all of the identities encompassed by "women," we will not achieve true progress.
What woman inspires you and why?
My mother. She is the most phenomenal woman on this planet. What I admire most about her is her tenacity. She's an incredibly resilient person, from living through the civil war in El Salvador, to migrating to the United States, raising four children on her own, and conquering every challenge in between. My mother is the kind of woman that I aspire to be: committed, wise, and selfless.