Celebrating Latino Leaders: Jordy Padilla
“It’s a duty of mine, as an educated individual, to fight for the people who didn’t have the same opportunity as me.”
Project Engineer at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge (“Q” Bridge)
Hometown: Sucua (Morana-Santiago), Ecuador
At Wilbur Cross High School, Padilla volunteered for CT Students for a Dream, which successfully advocated for the 2011 in-state tuition bill for undocumented students. As a college freshman, he co-founded New Haven Reach, a student volunteer organization that helps undocumented and underrepresented New Haven high school students access higher education. He recently received a New Haven Promise Legacy Award for this work, and is a member of the Progreso Latino Fund.
Coming To the United States
Born in a small town in southern Ecuador, Padilla was raised by his grandmother and uncle after his mother and father had left for the United States.
“My father had finished college and the economy was not doing so well. He was making more money doing minimum wage jobs here than as an entry-level professional back home.”
The day after his seventh birthday, Padilla left Ecuador to be reunited with his parents.
“I had only seen my parents through pictures. That was how I was able to recognize them.”
Being in a new country where he didn’t speak the language was strange. But on his first day of school, Padilla was put at ease when he was amazed to discover that the principal was fluent in Spanish.
“He was one of my first role models in this country. One of the reasons I have always loved New Haven is because of its schools. Christopher Columbus School, which I attended, made my transition and my assimilation into this culture simpler and better because everyone spoke Spanish at school. I didn’t have much trouble finding my way around the school and learning math and science while I was learning the English language.”
A Call to Lead
At Wilbur Cross High School, Padilla would see Yale student-volunteer tutors and mentors come in at the beginning of each school year, an experience that opened his eyes to what was needed for students like him.
“I never saw any Latinos. So I always felt that voice was missing. I wanted to have a voice for my community. I started noticing what needed to be done for my people and for the underrepresented.”
Padilla volunteered for the student rights organization, CT Students for a Dream and began working with counselors and administrators at Wilbur Cross, many of whom were unaware of the challenges faced by undocumented students like him.
“A few of the undocumented students were stars in school, but they didn’t pursue a higher education because they knew that at the end of the day, no matter how good you are, it’s really hard to get into college with that status. You could be a top-ranked student, but if a college asks for your social security number and your parent’s financial information, it creates a big divide.”
Padilla was accepted to the University of New Haven’s Civil Engineering program, receiving both merit and private scholarships, including support from New Haven Promise. He then turned around to give back. He and his best friend, who was at Yale, created New Haven Reach, a volunteer organization that helps undocumented and underrepresented high school students apply to colleges and scholarships.
“You’re dealing with kids who are really unaware of the college application process. It’s mind blowing. I remember I had five guidance counselors helping me out at Cross, and I had other programs that supported me, and it was still tough to get into college. So we knew that there were a lot of kids in New Haven who had the potential to go to college, just like myself, but needed that extra push. Today, many of the kids I’ve worked with are doing amazing.”
The Need to Be Visible
Now a project engineer working on the “Q” Bridge and supported by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Padilla continues his activism on behalf of undocumented immigrants.
“The way to win the fight against the political spectrum that is against us is to speak up. It can change people’s lives by just telling a story and standing up. Because I have an education, since I’m a civil engineer, it’s a duty of mine, as an educated individual, to fight for the people who didn’t have the same opportunity as me. If we stay in the shadows, nothing happens.
Five years ago, it was practically impossible to go to college for undocumented students. The changes that have since occurred at the state and federal level for Dreamers were because of the work of thousands of unafraid undocumented students.”
On What Is Needed for More Latinos to Become Successful
“It’s a support system that we need. My success is highly correlated with the 4th-grade teacher who made me dream bigger even though I was ashamed of my status, counselors that provided help throughout high school and college, and by my parents who arrived to work the lowest jobs in this country to give me a better life.
I believe as Latino leaders we need to complement the goals of the school system by tutoring, mentoring and volunteering."