Rafael Sanchez, MBA 19, nearly didn’t graduate high school after failing English his senior year.
“I fell into a trap that existed in my neighborhood,” said Sanchez, who grew up in Baldwin Park, Ca., surrounded by his large and tight-knit Mexican-American extended family. “In a low-income community a lot of people were influenced to do the wrong things, such as join gangs or do drugs…It was not a good environment. I didn’t do either, because of the values my mother instilled in me, but I hung out with friends who did both.”
With a little luck and extra credit, Sanchez managed to pass the class and graduate and—on the strength of his overall GPA and resulting class rank—was accepted to UC Riverside, where he studied business administration.
A future career in business
Today, it’s hard to believe Sanchez ever failed anything. He’s a student leader at Haas with a long list of roles: an Academic Cohort Representative; a liaison for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, the nation’s largest diversity network; a leader of the admissions pillar of the Racial Inclusion Initiative at Haas; an officer in the Haas Marketing Club and the Sports Business Club; a founding student advisory board member for the Center for Equity, Gender, & Leadership; a graduate student instructor for Kellie McElhaney’s Equity Fluent Leadership course; and a founder of the Latinx Business Club, a new club dedicated to promoting the experience of U.S. Latinx at Haas.
Growing up one of four siblings, he said, there were signs of a future career in business. For extra pocket money, he stood outside of a toy store and sold personal pizzas outside, and he also bought snacks at a big box store to sell out of his backpack at school—that is, until his business was shut down by a school proctor.
“With my dad, everything had to be a business proposition,” he said. “If I wanted a pair of shoes, I had to negotiate and make trade-offs, so business was ingrained in my DNA. Also, although my parents never explicitly said it, I was expected to go to college.”
After his father returned to Mexico, Sanchez said his mother, one of 16 children, became the family’s rock and inspiration.
“I’m here because of the sacrifices my mother has made for me to be successful,” he said. “It all comes back to my mom. She never demanded anything from me. She just wanted me to be a good person…she is the only one in her family to graduate all four of her children from college. There’s something there.”
We asked Sanchez a few more questions:
What do you like to share about your heritage that your friends might not understand?
I’m not Mexican. I’m not American. I’m Mexican-American. I am proud to be a blend of two distinct cultures. Being part of an educational system that’s American, going to school in America, and then going home to a different language and culture makes me a blend of those things. The foundation is family and I’m comfortable saying “I am both.”
What are you most proud of with your heritage?
It always comes back to family. Here in this country, the idea of the American dream, I believe in that. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that society’s definition of success isn’t necessarily what I want. What I want, personally, is maximizing time with family. That’s been my constant battle as I’ve had to manage my personal aspirations.
At the end of the day, why I chose Berkeley over my dream school (UCLA) was that it was time for me to get away from my family, focus on myself, and figure out what I was passionate about. Geography made a huge impact because it was important for me not to be too far away from home.
Have you been back to Mexico lately?
I went to Jalisco, where my parents are from, right before I started at Haas. Also, I love to travel to Rosarito Beach in Mexico so much that I have taken some of my classmates to visit.