Celebrating Latino Leaders: Angel Fernández Chavero
"I believe that leaders, real leaders, are people who at a time and a place decide that they have to help push to make a difference; and when they’re confronted with moments of doing something expedient or doing something that is self-aggrandizing, that they make the choice that is neither those, but what is best for the long term."
Angel Fernández Chavero
Acting Interim Executive Director for Commission on Equal Opportunities, City of New Haven
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico
Ambitious is one way to describe Angel Fernández-Chavero. Hailing from Mexico City, Mexico, Angel navigated his way through life to grab his piece of the American dream while helping others along the way.
Angel grew up in Los Angeles, California after his family made the move from Mexico to America when he was just 6 months old. He attended Head Start (later becoming chair of the Board of Directors for New Haven’s LULAC Head Start program) and Catholic grammar and Jesuit high school. Following high school, Angel was accepted into Yale which brought him to New Haven.
Once arriving at Yale, Angel dealt with homesickness. He missed the comforts of home where his Mexican heritage played a major part. Mexican influences in New Haven were practically nonexistent at the time.
As someone who became a naturalized American citizen where he had to make a conscious decision to say that he was an American, Angel realized he had to take stock of his heritage and sense of self.
“Well, how proud am I of my heritage? Of my parents? And what does that mean when you go to a school whose slogan is ‘For God, for country, for Yale’ and either that thrills you or makes you puke… I had a lot of ‘identities’ to reconcile.”
While Angel says Yale was both fun and a huge learning experience, he credits an urban planning summer course he took as a rising high school senior for helping him shine at his first post-grad job, working in the Housing and Neighborhood Development office at New Haven City Hall.
“When I was looking for work, I got the job at City Hall because I could write and because I was so young. I was cheap labor and I didn’t have to have acronyms explain to me because I had taken that one course,” he recalls.
A Career by Accident and Interest
Angel says he ended up in a career in neighborhood development, economic development, philanthropy, and community organizing by a combination of accident and interest.
“On the government side, I thought it was cool to help people figure out how to buy a house and get into housing. I did have some interest in urban planning, obviously,” he says. “And an interest in the Latino community, especially the Puerto Rican community here because they were the overwhelming majority at the time [but] compared to where the Chicano community was in L.A., I thought ok…well…I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, but let’s put the shoulder against the door and start pushing.”
To say Angel has been active in the community would be an understatement. He has been the chair of Latino Youth, chair of the Development Committee of the Yale Latino Alumni Association, chair of the Connecticut Housing Coalition, a founding board member of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the Regional Data Cooperative (now DataHaven), treasurer of Casa Otoñal, a co-founder of the New Haven Jewish-Latino Dialogue and the list goes on. However, his most notable volunteer role is the help he gave to St. Rose of Lima Church. Angel played a major part in leading their efforts to fight against racial profiling of and brutality against Latinos by the East Haven Police Department. His efforts, along with his pastor’s, resulted in the resignation of the police chief, Department of Justice management oversight of the police department, and the arrest and conviction of four police officers. For this, he and Fr. Manship were honored in 2012 with the National Council of La Raza’s top civil rights award, the Graciela Olivarez Award.
What Leadership Looks Like
“I believe that leaders, real leaders, are people who at a time and a place decide that they have to help push to make a difference; and when they’re confronted with moments of doing something expedient or doing something that is self-aggrandizing, that they make the choice that is neither those, but what is best for the long term,” he says.
He knows more than a little about the importance of taking a long-term approach, having worked as a senior philanthropic officer at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven – the region’s permanent endowment established in 1928. While there, he also served as the staff liaison to the Progreso Latino Fund.
“What I really loved about my tenure there is how much I learned about what makes nonprofits tick,” Angel says. “How to really run a nonprofit to achieve its mission, I think that’s where I learned some of my best lessons.”
Currently, Angel has returned to City Hall, acting as the interim executive director of the Commission on Equal Opportunities. He and his wife, Filomena Ayala, and their daughter Angela reside in New Haven, while daughter Celina is finishing college at California State University, Northridge.
Looking back over his life, Angel is proud of what he has accomplished.
“I’ve raised my children well and I’ve shown them and others that you really can make the world a better place.”