After forty-seven years of living in Virginia and close to forty years of service with the Federal government, I’ve decided to retire effective December 27, 2013, and move to a state where the weather is always warmer and life is much slower – Florida. Thirty-six year is the number of wedding anniversaries that my wife and I will be celebrating later in December — (just unbelievable!). 47 years, almost 40 years, 36 years!—just a moment in time, yet a lifetime of memories!
I’ve worked for the Federal Government for my entire professional career—Naval Sea Systems Command, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Government Printing Office, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. At every federal agency where I worked, I always made it a point to ask the questions that needed to be asked, to right every wrong that I could, to motivate all those who needed a mentor, and to help those who needed advice but had no one to turn to. You see, I come from a country where no one spoke truth to power when a totalitarian regime took the reins of control, and it’s been under the Communist yoke for fifty-four years.
Every day, I give thanks to my God for walking out unharmed through the many land mines that I’ve been exposed to through the years. Many of my friends have not been so lucky. I’m exiting the door with my credibility intact, with my head held high, with the ability to look everyone straight in the eyes and enter through the front door of places. I’m leaving full of hope for each tomorrow.
For fifteen years I served on the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives—first as Co-Vice-Chair from 1997-2000, and as Co-Chair from 2001 to 2012 – as well as created and maintained its webpage. As ambassador for the EEO community, I, together with the Executive Board of the Council, worked to ensure the EEO community’s concerns and issues were presented to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the Government Accountability Office. We achieved progress in many areas over the years on behalf of the Federal EEO community.
While a bureaucrat, I am also a man for all seasons. My hobbies are music, reading, travel, wine tastings, and taking time to smell the roses – a necessary thing to keep your sanity in a metropolitan area that desires to measure everything. Most have not learned yet that the things that really count are not countable!
For over thirteen years, I have tried to get promoted to the Senior Executive Service (SES) rank unsuccessfully. No one can say that I lacked the qualifications, as I have seen much less qualified applicants get promoted. I’m also sure that speaking with a slight accent was used against me, as some very foolish selecting officials equate speaking with an accent with thinking with an accent. The bottom line was that my non-selection into the SES rank depressed me quite a bit. But despite not reaching my ultimate personal goal, I never lost the desire to make a difference.
With time, I realized the futility of eradicating by myself all the flawed motives that these individuals used in the past not to promote me and other qualified Hispanics. I came to realize that I did not have sufficient time to conquer the windmills that stood in my way. So, I stopped worrying about the things that I could not control and concentrated on those that I could. I accepted the fact that when I retired from federal service, when I become frail with age, a few extra dollars in my annuity and an SES title next to my name would not be a big help to me at all. Ego and vanity would not make me a better person.
I found peace in myself when I accepted the fact that what really mattered at work was the difference that I had made in the lives of others — the interns that I converted into permanent federal employees; the colleagues I mentored to understand the law that management guru John Maxwell preached that “one is too small a number to achieve greatness”; the supervisors that I convinced that we had to walk our own talk because there was nothing more lethal than asking managers and supervisors to diversify their staffs when our own civil rights offices were the least diverse places in our agencies; the words of encouragement that I offered the cleaning staff to strive for a better tomorrow; the op-eds that I authored and got published about important issues that needed to be aired — the lack of human and civil rights in Cuba, the 43-year Hispanic underrepresentation challenge in the federal workforce, the need to build bridges of understanding with other communities to facilitate the tearing down of walls of bigotry that have prevented them from living as one harmonious family, and the need to motivate others to stop taking the tranquilizing drug of gradualism to solve their problems and embrace “the fierce urgency of now!” These are the things that I would be remembered for!
But, most importantly, I embraced the urgency of enjoying those precious “momentos” with my immediate family and close friends—to show them by my deeds that they were the reason for attaining fulfillment in the autumn of my days, and to tell them that I did these things because they made me feel like a useful and happy man, and not because of the accolades, fancy titles, monetary benefits that I cherished in the past.
At the end of our lives, we’ll return to dust. Our legacy will be the good deeds that we left behind.
Among my greatest achievements are my 36-year marriage to a Cubana whom I deeply love and respect, and our son Stephen, who graduated from the University of Virginia and now works for the private sector and who continues to exceed all of our expectations. They have been my compass in good times and bad times—my reasons for being. When asked for my secret for staying married for so long, I respond that I’m a firm believer in the 3-C’s theory of relationships – “Communication, Collaboration, and Compromise.”
I honor all the civil rights champions of the past who fought the battles to make it possible for me and others to live in an America as it was meant to be. The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to be one of the greatest influences on my thinking. One of my favorite quotations from Dr. King is “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Here is a video that an amiga (Maria Contreras) put together to celebrate my retirement. You’ll see the Ceiba Restaurant (my favorite), the Willard Hotel, the Reagan Building, and the U.S. Department of Commerce (where I retired from). And, of course, I liked the song that she used as the theme very much — I agree with its saying that “life is like a son (a Cuban dance), it’s meant to be lived to the fullest!”
Peace, many blessings, and keep the faith!