Efrain Guerrero has been Chief of Staff at East Harlem Tutorial Program (EHTP) for over three years, partnering with stakeholders across the community to advance our strategic plan. He began his foray into education as Achievement First Bushwick Middle School’s Director of School Operations.
As part of EHTP’s Latinx Heritage Month blog series, we caught up with Guererro to learn why he is passionate about working in education.
It turns out that his educational success wasn’t necessarily preordained. “My parents both grew up poor, in a rural part of Mexico, my mom with 10 siblings and my dad with 12,” he explains. “Neither of them finished high school. My dad dropped out as early as middle school to find work so he could help support his family.”
Guerrero and his three siblings were born and raised in Long Beach, California, his parents having decided that moving to the U.S. would provide a better future. “I can’t imagine the courage that it took for them to leave their home and family in Mexico, leaving behind everything and everyone they knew and loved.” Guerrero adds, “I try to live my life full of gratitude for the sacrifices they made.”
While Guerrero earned degrees at Harvard University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, attaining education proved to be more elusive for his siblings. He says that only recently, because of the anti-racism professional development at EHTP, has he been able to reflect on what happened to his siblings and other teenagers in his Latinx community who never graduated from high school.
“Our parents did not realize that they were moving to a country that was founded on racism and white supremacy. …they didn’t know about the achievement gap, about the vast inequality in life outcomes that exists between people of color and white people. They didn’t come prepared knowing that the forces of institutional racism and the negative effects of living in poverty in this country would be nearly impossible to overcome.”
What made the difference for Guerrero? “I was in middle school when I first came to the realization that I was gay, and I knew that my parents, having grown up Catholic and who were very traditional, would never fully accept me. Being good at school was a way to overcompensate for this lack of acceptance and win my parents approval.”
Guerrero went on to become his high school valedictorian, graduating with a 4.0 GPA, having passed 9 AP exams, rocking his SAT’s and serving as Editor-in-Chief of the yearbook. When he applied early admission to Harvard, he got in.
Fast forward, and his expansive career has included market research at Proctor & Gamble and fundraising for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). He lives with his partner James and their pug Mrs. Carter (named for — and sometimes dressed up as — Beyoncé), and is the biological father of two girls who live with their moms in Philadelphia. While it is a full and satisfying life, Guerrero remains driven by his passion for educational equality:
“I wish that all Latinx and black parents could have that sense of certainty about their kids’ futures. They should have that same sense of entitlement to the American Dream that white parents and their children enjoy. But the reality is that for immigrants and people of color in this country, the American Dream is a myth. Working hard, paying taxes, and doing the right thing every day is not enough for people of color to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’.”
Reflecting on the importance of Latinx Heritage Month, Guerrero makes this assertion: “This racial inequality and injustice is something that we can’t continue to tolerate.”