By Perlita R. Dicochea
Benjamin Hueso, candidate for San Diego School Board, District D, met with La Prensa and openly assessed the experiences in his life that has made him the community leader he is today. Hueso has established close personal relationships with children and adults alike through his leadership roles in local entities such as the non-profit Inner City Business Association, the Boy Scouts, the Sherman Heights Community Center and the Church of Guadalupe Choir, to name a few.
Dressed in sharp business attire, it is hard to imagine that at one point in his life Benjamin Hueso, founder of the successful private company, California Paratransit Services, moved into a van where he lived for two years while attending UCLA as an undergrad.
“It was a very humbling experience, but it helped me focus on my priorities and at that time everything I did was for my education,” Hueso said, who at one point studied in the Ukraine.
I met with Benjamin Hueso at Chicano Perk in the heart of his community, Sherman Heights. Nearby Hueso pointed out several businesses he helped start and revamp, including Chicano Perk.
“Everybody that I was raised with wanted to live elsewhere. People think you need to move to Chula Vista or someplace else. For many, Barrio Logan is not where one lives if one wants to achieve ‘success,’” Hueso explained. Yet for Hueso, Barrio Logan and Sherman Heights are precisely the areas where he has created success.
During the hour-long interview three community residents walked in for coffee each made it a point to greet Hueso. That the only three people who walked in to Chicano Perk during our interview knew Hueso well enough to say a casual “hello” struck me as a testament to his consistent involvement in the social and economic development of the area.
“I’m in close contact with my community. I know my neighbors. You know, kids are a lot of work, but you can’t walk away from your kids or wife or family. For me, it’s the same with community and I have to do everything in my power to succeed.”
District D includes the neighborhoods, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, City Heights, North Park, Hillcrest and borders National City.
Notably, Hueso, number 8 of 9 children, reveals a pattern of direct involvement where he sees the potential for growth and improvement be it in the political process, in the educational system, in creating safer streets or organizing activities for the youth of the area.
What follows are Hueso’s thoughtful assessments of his life experiences and turning points that now situate him as District D’s best candidate for San Diego School Board.
La Prensa: How did you begin getting involved in the improvement of this neighborhood?
Hueso: I was involved in property management and development and I looked at the kinds of developments in Mission Valley and I looked at our own community and I wondered, Why is it that we can’t get anything done here? I started to find out that what happened in this community was dictated by a small group of people and they had their own personal interests. I was involved in property management yet I began advocating for affordable housing and the two appeared to be conflicting. A lot of things that I was advocating for appeared to conflict with what would personally benefit me economically. Now I believe that improving the housing stock here and creating more business opportunities helps everybody. So I started an inner city business organization because business owners, businesses like this (Chicano Perk), felt they didn’t have representation. They felt they were harassed by the city in regards to permits and signage and zoning issues. Some of the first supporters of the association were the ice cream vendors. The police would come and take away their carts, they would put them out of business and they were operating legally. We started this association for the small businesses not the big businesses but businesses like Chicano Perk, El Comal, La Palapa. We had been left out of the planning process. We want to improve the quality of the services for the residents of this area and that was the basis of our mission statement.
In working with that organization I got involved with the city, meeting with political leaders and city officials, learning about redevelopment and planning. I meant, it was like going to school all over again and it was learning a huge bureaucracy. It’s very complex and I started to reach out to the San Diego community, apply for grants and find ways to fund our activities. We put on street fairs like “Taste of the Barrio,” and “El Dia Del Niño,” we have had soap box derbies here for the kids in the neighborhood.
La Prensa: Did you find inspiration from anyone in your family?
Hueso: My father constantly had us working. All hours of the day that we were with our father he had us working. I learned how to do a lot of things from my father in construction and in landscaping. He taught us not to complain and to achieve our goals. He never failed in reaching his goals. He might have made a lot mistakes but he reached his goals. More than anything else, we were not a wealthy family. With nine kids in this country and he was donating a lot of his time to the community (through the Chicano Federation and in social services) so my father did not make a lot of money. He worked for a non-profit and he made barely a livable wage for a family of three and we were a family of eleven. We learned to share a lot of things. One thing I noticed about my dad is that he never turned anybody away that came asking him for help. And we learned at even as business owner when we were having a hard time making our own salaries, we were contributing to good causes in the neighborhood and supporting organization that needed financial support of volunteer work. So I learned early on, along with my 8 siblings, that we have a responsibility and a big heart when it comes to our community.
La Prensa: How did you come to run in the campaign for San Diego School Board?
Hueso: Wow…you know, how did I get to become a scout master for the Boy Scouts? How did start the Inner City Business Association or get involved in neighborhood housing services? Every step of the way every time I started a youth group, I became a mentor or started a soccer team for kids people come to me and ask, “why do you do this?” One person actually came up to me and said, “You are too nice. That is your character flaw, you are too nice.” And my answer was, “Is it possible to be too nice? I mean, is that even possible? Is that a bad quality in our community when we are philanthropic because we just care? Forget about that we’re philanthropic. I don’t consider myself a philanthropist. I just consider myself as somebody that has something to contribute, period. It’s not about “I’m the best man for the job.” I never thought of myself as a ‘community leader.’ I never saw myself as a politician. I just feel it’s my responsibility. All along the way I met a doctor or a teacher or a family member or somebody that inspired me and directed me in a direction that turned out to be positive. And whenever I meet a young person who wants to go to college, I sit down with that person and I try to impart as much knowledge as I can.
It’s just a different approach to working with kids. It’s important to send them a message that we really care about them and why. I had one kid ask me, “Why do you care about us so much?” I said, “Because you are the future and I care about where you are going because the prisons are filling up with people that look just like you, with your skin color, and I want to stop it as much as I can.”
La Prensa: It has been discussed that this election could possibly dramatically change the direction of the San Diego School Board. If you are elected in November, what are some of the things you would like to do on the school board? Do you see yourself as being a part of a new direction? If so, in what sense?
Hueso: First of all, this board is going to come in with more of a sense of collaboration. I have formed relationships with all of the people running. I think we understand that our success is going to depend on our ability to work with each other. That is something I am committed to
Another thing that I want to change is in empowering parents. I have been able to empower parents especially in the underserved communities where we need their increased participation.
We need to motivate teachers, we need to motivate the school administration, we need to motivate the superintendent himself. Parents need to get more involved and they will if we help them feel comfortable getting into the process. You don’t do that with antagonism. So I think I’ve had successes I can point to that are applicable to my ability to find success on the school board.
We need to understand that a lot of people that come here do not have a formal education and are coming into a new society with new laws and completely different social dynamics. I understand that and I’m going to work to tear down some of these barriers.
Ben Hueso can be found playing piano and singing in the choir every Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Come November, let’s hope to find him on the San Diego School Board.