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Meet Andy Canales of Latinos for Education in Greater Houston

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andy Canales.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My story begins with my parents who fled a brutal civil war in El Salvador that killed more than 75,000 people. They immigrated to Los Angeles where I grew up in the inner-city. While I was always eager to excel in school, I didn’t always have access to the resources and the education I needed to succeed. Despite the challenges of growing up in poverty, learning English as a second language, and attending a chronically low-performing middle school, I was able to become the first one in my family to attend and graduate from college.

I did this with the help of my parents, mentors, and great teachers. I’m passionate about education because of the difference it made in my life. This is why I’ve devoted my career to helping children who are in the shoes I was once in.

Prior to leading Latinos for Education in Houston, I worked as a teacher, nonprofit director, corporate philanthropy manager, research director. I now have the opportunity to lead a non-profit that empowers more Latino leaders to get meaningfully involved in the education sector.

Has it been a smooth road?
When my parents – a housekeeper and a mechanic – saved enough money to buy a home, they had no idea that decision would lead me to one of the worst-performing middle schools in Los Angeles. Had they bought a house just a few blocks away, I would have been zoned to one of the best performing schools in the county.

I excelled in elementary school and was afraid that I would not be able to fully realize my academic potential by attending a low-performing school. In a desperate attempt to salvage my education, my mom and I arranged a meeting with the principal at the high-performing school to try to convince him to allow me into his school.

At the meeting, my mom made her case in Spanish to the principal while struggling not to break down crying: “Solamente quiero que tenga una buena educacion.” I quickly translated her plea: “My mom says she just wants me to have a good education.”

It was quite the tearjerker moment but, unfortunately, tears only went so far. I’ll never forget the principal turning us away saying, “I’m really sorry. I wish I could help, but you’re not zoned to this school, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

I then attended a middle school where I fell further behind academically.

Fortunately, I then went to a high school where I came across caring and knowledgeable teachers who helped me get on the path to college.

While I improved and excelled in high school, I still entered college academically behind. I learned to work extra hard and not be afraid to ask for help. This is what helped me succeed throughout college.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Latinos for Education – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am the founding Executive Director, Greater Houston at Latinos for Education, an education nonprofit that develops and places Latino leaders in the education sector, primarily on education nonprofit boards and executive teams.

Since 2005, there has been an increase of 800,000 Latino students across Texas. In Greater Houston, Latino students make up over half of the student population, yet only 1 in 10 Latino students are graduating college-ready.

We believe education needs to improve and in order to improve education, we need to incorporate the Latino experience in the solutions we’re generating for our community. This is why we exist. Through our two annual Latino education leadership programs, we’re ensuring Latino leaders are trained, positioned, and have a voice at the table for the fastest growing population in Houston.

I am also a Harris County Leadership ISD Fellow and a 2019-2020 American Leadership Forum Fellow (Class XLVII). I serve on the boards of multiple organizations making a difference in the community including TEACH and the Latino Texas PAC where I serve as Chairman.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love Houston’s diversity. I can’t imagine living in a place that is not diverse. I also realize that it’s not enough to be diverse – we also need to be inclusive and that requires strategy, which is why I’m so passionate about the work that I’m a part of.

I also appreciate how welcoming Houston is. A lot of people in Houston weren’t born here, so there is a sense of home here that is uniquely comforting.

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