Q. How can Hispanics take a more proactive approach in the areas of health care and financial stability?
A. There are two issues here. One is at the macro level, which has to do with Hispanics and Latinos getting together, and that is very difficult … because our community is not united. We do not understand the political, social, and economic power that it would bring. The other thing that we have to do, at the individual level, is become actively engaged in the issues. In some of the countries we came from, we were led to believe it’s up to the government to solve our problems—but the action has to come from us. We are the ones who elect the government officials and we are the ones who should be more active and proactive … and after that person gets elected, we need to hold him [or her] accountable.
Q. Let’s talk about diversity, which is part of AARP’s mission. What value should we find in the work force reflecting the country’s population?
A. Not only the federal government, but also any organization in our nation, should reflect America. There have been studies in terms of team-building that demonstrate that teams that are diverse have a more effective end product than non-diverse teams. When you come to the issue of diversity, there are two groups here that have responsibility. One group is the organization. It has the responsibility to make opportunities available. The other is the individual. You must think, “I need to avail myself to the opportunities that this institution is providing.”
Q. What role has volunteer work played in your life?
A. My mother always taught me that life was about giving back. She used to say that “we come to this earth to serve, not to be served.” When I was in the military, I was involved in several mentorship programs. I founded an organization for the University of Puerto Rico in the Washington, D.C., area, and I’m very active in that. When I was in the federal government, I got involved in many other volunteer activities.
After you’ve reached a level of achievement, I think life is about reaching out, reaching down, helping others, pushing others up, and getting others closer. It’s about setting an example. Giving back to a nation that has given us so much is the bottom line.
Q. How will you leverage your experience as a board member?
A. I have mentioned to the members of the selection committee that I am willing to serve in any committee in any capacity. I am also willing and able to share from my experiences with not just members of the board, but also members of the AARP staff. So again, it goes back to: I’m here to serve … and I have my luggage packed for whatever AARP wants me to do.