‘I knew I had to do more to have opportunity’

A business operations specialist from Mexico upended his small-town roots to land in Winnipeg, only to find his pride for his heritage beat stronger.

BNN

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Jose Castellon Alvarez is a business operations specialist, Enterprise Operations, Finance and Strategy (EOFS), in Winnipeg, Canada. Jose’s story is the second in a three-part series celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), in which employees share what their Hispanic and Latino/Latina American identities mean to them, and how they are making a difference at Boeing. 

I’m from a low-income family in Mexicali, Mexico. I grew up in a border town, and my father had a small Mexican restaurant. 

I used to spend hours watching the Travel Channel. My goal in life was to travel, but I didn’t have any money. I knew I had to do more than others to have that opportunity. 

My father passed away when I was in high school; my mom and I survived on his pension. I studied international business at a public college, and my mother would give me 50 pesos per day. I had 30 pesos for gas and 20 pesos to eat one or two tacos. It was very difficult. 

Jose Castellon Alvarez pictured with his sister at a paper stand outside their family restaurant in Mexicali, Mexico. (Photo courtesy Jose Castellon Alvarez)

But I always had a vision to go beyond what my parents were able to do. I wanted to be more. 

Jose volunteered for a program in college that allowed him to travel the world. After college, he taught logistics at La Universidad Autónoma de Baja California in Mexico while working for Honeywell Aerospace. In 2015, he decided he wanted to live abroad. Jose received a scholarship to pursue his master of business administration (MBA) degree at Audencia Business School in France. 

I quit my job. I quit everything. My wife and I sold all our belongings. We had just one piece of luggage per person. We were super scared and didn’t know what was going to happen. I put everything on the line. 

I moved from my hometown of Mexicali, Mexico to Nantes, Pays de la Loire, France. My biggest challenge was being an immigrant in the country. I was an international student in a multicultural university. I came to France believing I had an international perspective, but I hadn’t ever really heard from the other side of the world. I hadn’t experienced their culture, so I only had stories and assumptions to fill in the gaps. It was important to try to understand each other, because we all brought different perspectives, cultures, customs and ideas. My perspective changed completely, and I was able to see the world with a more informed, diverse lens. 

After graduating, Jose and his family moved to Winnipeg, Canada, a city with a small Mexican population. His dream was to work for Boeing. After a short supply chain stint with the province’s development office, Jose landed a job at Boeing as a business operations specialist.

In Mexico, it’s tradition that with your first paycheck, you organize a barbecue at your home or you pay for lunch with your team. I invited my team to my apartment for shrimp tacos, Baja-style.  You need to understand your background to grow as an international professional, and you need to showcase the best things from your culture so other people can learn from your perspective.  

I later presented to leadership about Latinos in Canada, Boeing Familia, about why we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The then-general manager, Kimberly Westenskow, said, “Why don’t you open a Boeing Familia chapter here?” So I did. 

In late 2019, Jose founded the first international chapter of Boeing Familia in Winnipeg, where he works to recruit non-Hispanics and Hispanics and Latino/Latina Americans to join. He hopes to leverage the group as a professional development resource for all employees.

The day before the kick-off for Boeing Familia, someone made a comment doubting my work because of my background. It was the worst moment of my professional career. 

I had always been the majority, never the minority. This was new to me, and I hit bottom. 

I reflected on what I wanted to gain from the experience and thought about others who may be receiving those comments. That gave me courage to speak up and become more active with diversity and inclusion. 

I decided to stand up, as president of the Winnipeg chapter, and tell others that you have every reason to be proud of yourself. Be proud to be different. Be proud of your background. Always speak up for yourself. 

Alvarez, a business operations specialist, EOFS, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. (Photo courtesy Jose Castellon Alvarez)

That experience motivated me to become what I am now. I want to showcase Latinos, that we are professionals. We are committed to our work. Our background has helped us overcome challenges, and we can help others do the same too.

Jose now works to bring students from his hometown to visit Boeing and other companies to help them understand the global reach of the aerospace market. Last year, he traveled back to his junior high in Mexicali, Mexico. 

I told them, "When I was young like you, I watched the Travel Channel, and I always wanted to travel the world. I was able to go to France. I traveled here and there."

I showed them a picture of myself at their school in their uniform. I said, "I sat exactly where you’re sitting. So don’t tell me you can’t do things in life. If I was able to do it with no support, you can too."

As told to Rosemary Lane

Engage with Boeing Familia

Boeing’s employee-led Business Resource Group, Boeing Familia, connects thousands of employees around the world to create environments of equity, diversity and inclusion and position our teammates of Hispanic and Latino/Latina American descent to innovate, lead with strength and advance in aerospace.

Like all BRGs, Boeing Familia is organized around four strategic pillars: professional development, business alignment, talent engagement and community involvement. 

Working in collaboration with the Enterprise Boeing Familia Board and Executive Champions, Boeing Familia’s 19 chapters offer a collaborative, supportive network, providing personal and professional development, networking, mentorship and leadership opportunities for its members. Boeing Familia also works to drive awareness for the richness and diversity of Hispanic culture, engage in community outreach, and help the company further its business goals in a global, multicultural environment.  

Engage with the events Boeing Familia is planning for Hispanic Heritage Month here. To learn more about Boeing Familia, click here