Rafael Castellanos Wants to Inspire Latinos to be Professionals
By Ana Gomez Salcido
Getting a university degree was something that Rafael Castellanos thought was not possible, being the son of Mexican immigrants living in the United States.
Once he completed his Bachelor’s degree, Castellanos looked to inspire others to fulfill the American Dream.
“That’s why my parents came here, to get more opportunities, and to give me the chance of an education and be able to be somebody,” said the port commissioner of the Unified Port of San Diego, who is celebrating three years of service today, April 15.
This Mexican-American professional said that his parents, originally from the states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, did not finish their elementary education.
“What inspired me to study was simply watching that my parents didn’t finish their education, they always said to me that if I wanted to work all my life doing physical labor like they did I didn’t need to study, but if I wanted something more and didn’t want to suffer while working like they did, that I needed to study,” said the lawyer.
Castellanos grew up in a mining town of Winnemucca, Nevada, where he worked since he was very young to help his family while saving up for his education.
“Since I was very young I started working, my dad had an accident when I was seven years old, and since then I started working to help them,” he said.
Castellanos helped his mother to clean hotel rooms, he said, so she could finish her job quickly to go to another place where she worked.
At nine years old, he started a paper route, and when he was 11 years old, he got another job at a golf course where he cleaned.
Castellanos also worked after school as a dishwasher for a restaurant, as well as in the weekends, and during the summer.
While he was studying middle school he also worked in construction and later he worked mining gold and silver in his native town.
“I operated heavy machinery in the mines, and I did that for a few years, then I went to college,” he said.
At first, Castellanos wanted to be a history teacher, but then he changed his career career path toward law.
“I wanted a career, and get a license to work in any state, being a lawyer was a good option for me, I could work wherever I wanted and have an economic security to help my parents, being a lawyer is a safe profession,” he said.
When he was a little boy, he never saw any Latino lawyer, and thought that was something not possible, but his career advisor was the one that told him that he could be that, especially because of his good grades.
“I remember that it was something really weird, I never thought that was possible for me, it never enter my mind that I could be a lawyer, nobody in my family even finished middle school, less going to college, for me, it was something big,” he said.
Castellanos received his college degree from Arizona State University and a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.
Castellanos believes that when young Latinos see that someone from their community is a professional, it inspires youth in the community.
“That young Latinos see that they are a lot of people that study and receive a college degree is something that for me is very easy, and not only seeing it, but also talking to them about it,” he said.
After four years as a lawyer in the Los Angeles area, Castellanos decided to move to San Diego to have a better quality of life, and to start working with the community, he said, so he could help others to fulfill their dreams like he did.
“I started working in the community, I started as a volunteer for different organizations, and started working with MANA de San Diego, an organization that helps Latino women through different programs, and I was the first male to be a board member of the organization, and to be their lawyer,” Castellanos said.
Castellanos became a member of the Latino lawyer association called La Raza, and even became the president of their board.
“I wanted to know a lot of people and try to do what I couldn’t do in Los Angeles, that was to involve and make a sense of community, something very important for me”.
Castellanos is still a member of both organizations mentioned, but is not a part of the boards.
Now, Castellanos focuses on his job as a lawyer and as a member of the Board of Port Commissioners of the Unified Port of San Diego, at the same time that he works for two other non-profits.
Teach for America, an organization that helps new teachers to get a job, is new to San Diego, he mentioned, and he is part of their board.
Castellanos is also part of the board of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.
“Working with organizations to try and move forward different causes and programs that help our community is something that is needed more, and is something that I’m very proud, that I have had the opportunity to do it, and I feel very good trying to do something good for the community,” he said.
One of the future goals of Castellanos is to continue to work as a public officer in San Diego, he said, which is something he has done for almost three years as a port commissioner.
“I am one of the few Latinos that have been a port commissioner in the history of the Port of San Diego, and is very important to have someone that represent us in that commission, and in any local government, is something very important, there is a different perspective as a Latino,” he said.
In the government, every group needs to be represented, he said, not only one community.
In 2015, Castellanos launched his candidate campaign to seek the office of San Diego City Attorney, which is going to be on the June ballot for the Primary Election, and then on the November ballot for the General Election.
“What I have realized is that it gives me pleasure to help my community, and like in the organizations I have volunteer and in the Port, the public service is an incredible experience, this position is an opportunity to enter and help the city,” he added.