Photographed by Robin Jerstad, Jerstad Photography
Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you go to school and what path got you to where you are today?
I went to undergrad at TX A&M University in Corpus Christi and attended here at the UTSA’s downtown campus studying Public Administration. During that time, I started getting involved in grass roots campaigns. I ended up working on a few school board elections and then ended up becoming the campaign manager for Joaquin Castro’s State Representative campaign in 2006. After that I stayed engaged in politics, local elections and then moved to Houston and that’s where I worked for an organization called Houstonians For Responsible Growth. There was a zoning issue afoot and essentially we were organized to stop it and we succeeded in that campaign. Following that success, I came back to SA and got involved working on a land use initiative. There were some properties next to the Toyota plant that had an interesting zoning under the city’s South Management Authority and several landowners were adversely affected by it. We started an initiative called HOLA, Home Ownership and Land Affordability Coalition. The campaign was short-lived and was difficult to take on but you are seeing some of those changes now, with the City South Management Authority having been restructured as of late. Then my hometown Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director was retiring and my folks encouraged me to apply. I threw my name in the hat and really I was very young at the time. I think I was 26 years old and I didn’t think I would be considered. Traditionally, Chamber Execs are a little older and I was definitely breaking the mold on that. I was also thinking of my hometown, which has challenges in dealing with change. I thought “how are they going to embrace a young guy coming in?” Surprisingly, I did get the job and worked there for 4 years. At that time we were making some pretty cool changes and a lot of business development happened. Exciting things were happening with some manufacturing recruitment we were doing with our sister city Acuna, Mexico.
Al Arreola, Jr. with Al Arreola, Sr.
In that process some changes occurred at the municipal level that I think were good for the city and the community. When you try to bring change, some people disagree with that. A lot of it was based on union issues and you saw a lot of that happening here in San Antonio’s Mayoral election. At that point in time I was feeling ineffective in my role and that we needed to be the leadership. My father decided to run for mayor of Del Rio, and that’s when I decided to step down. I helped manage his campaign so we could deliver the message that we were trying to do some significant things for our hometown. We came up a little short, losing in the run-off election, but prior to that happening, I did have an opportunity to interview with the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. I was hired and I’m blessed to be back here in San Antonio. I feel like with all the special things happening in South Texas, being at the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, it is being at the forefront of the gateway to South Texas.
In addition to what you do at the chamber, can you talk a little bit about what other organizations you are involved with and whether you serve on the Board or have a leadership role with any of those?
Sure, I’m on the Executive Board of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition and also on the Board of Directors of the New Leaders Council. When I was in Del Rio, I was on the middle Rio Grande Workforce Development Council and I got a pretty good sense of workforce issues being involved in that organization. I am also helping in getting the San Antonio chapter of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Alumni Association going.
You are heavily involved in political and social issues, give us 3 that you feel you are the most passionate about?
Oh wow, this is tough to pick. One would be going back to my hometown. I had many of my colleagues and other young professionals asking me why I would want to go back there. Especially when you think of young professionals and the amenities and quality of life and other things that we want, I was going back to a simpler place. I wanted to go back because I still see it for what its worth. It’s the jewel of the border in my mind. We are still unique in so many ways compared to the other areas of the border cities. We have Lake Amistad and rock art that predates the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The culture and art scene there is pretty cool. It’s a unique place that I felt, should be appreciated and maybe there was a little bit of a chip on my shoulder that we weren’t getting the recognition that I believed my hometown deserved. We worked really hard on that and it was heartbreaking to walk away from there. The second thing was definitely the issue we worked on in Houston. It really gave me a consciousness of private property rights and how to support entrepreneurs. There are so many challenges to getting any business going, and in Houston I did feel that the access to affordable land was so significant in helping people with their homes and getting their business off the ground. In Houston, our belief was that the loose regulations were helpful in making an organic economy happen. I enjoyed the energy in Houston too. There were a lot of people willing to be the horse for the carriage instead of just sit in the carriage. There were a lot of go-getters and I learned a lot from the people there.
What I have found in working with the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is that the south does remind me of home too. The history, the culture, the people, the type of businesses. I have a very fond connection and bond with not only the business owners, but the residents as well. There is such a family feel to it all. I believe that, where the creative class is currently being incubated, and supported, is on the South Side. I’m a techy, and our organization is trying hard to be creative and stay in tune with everything that is going on not only with business but with the arts as well. I enjoy the culture and it is something I get behind and am very passionate about. It’s something that I want to see the rest of San Antonio appreciate as well.
#SoSA promo. Photo courtesy of Lou Galvan, Vendetta Media
You have a lot of things going on, what do you do to maintain a healthy work/life balance?
When you are doing what you love, it’s difficult to see it as work. Maybe in someone else’s perspective it looks like I am working but I am actually just living. I really enjoy what I do. A good example is our So SA video campaign, that we started, which shows me genuinely living and enjoying our side of town with my board members. Obviously, to some extent, we are working because we are talking about the market. There is also the video production that has to be done, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like work at all.
What are some highlights about being a Young Professional in San Antonio?
When I was working with Joaquin Castro’s campaign, one of his platforms that I bought in was that San Antonio needed to build the infrastructure of opportunity. What he meant by that was to create more opportunities for education everywhere and make it more accessible. I see that we’ve had that in San Antonio for a while and its growing and blossoming even more. The expansion of these educational institutions is huge for our demographic as a lot of us are coming out of college and looking for opportunities for continuing education.
What about challenges, what do you think we could do better as a city?
A lot of people say San Antonio is a big small town and when they say that they are actually referring to some of the politics. A lot of the reason it is challenging for Young Professionals to get involved in the civic process is because they don’t necessarily feel connected. I think too that they are frustrated that they are also seen as outsiders and not necessarily as San Antonians. You look at the Austins and the Houstons and those are metro towns and melting pots from everywhere. You go out to a wing place on a football Saturday and you’ll see college baseball caps from everywhere. Here I feel like we need to be more embracing of all folks that want to get engaged in the political process. We need to welcome them with open arms. You know, some political scientist paint the election of our Mayor, Ivy Taylor, as a conservative victory, but I think her victory was one of the most progressive statements San Antonio has ever made.
In addition to voting, what would you suggest to Young Professionals on how to be more engaged in the political and social issues here in San Antonio?
Brooks City Base promo. Photo courtesy of Heather Angel Chandler, Innovative Multimedia Group
It is as simple as “show up” because it matters. If you don’t show up, the other side will. Do your research and follow what is going on at the city and county level. Bring your input to those governing boards and committees. The process is not set up to be challenging. It is set up to be inclusive and that is why they have open meetings so you can show up. They put their agendas on line so you can see what is going to be discussed. With how good our generation is at navigating the internet, there is no reason for us not to be informed on what is going on at the government levels.
What are some things that you are working on as far as personal development?
I’ve found in my leadership development that I have to really learn to be, and adapt to, many personalities. That is where my development needs to continue. I need to be very mindful of all opinions and thoughts and all types of feedback. By being more open, you are engaging more collaboration and engaging more ideas. To be quite frank I don’t particularly enjoy public speaking but I’ve had to. I don’t necessarily like doing financial reports, but I’ve had to. Leadership I think, is just about stepping up to the plate.
Do you have any body who has been an important mentor to you, as a young professional?
Oh my gosh, so many. My father is one. Being his namesake, I do feel a little pressure because I look up to him as a hero. He is an immigrant and I am a first generation American. He first came to this country with little to nothing. He got a job, got married, and continued moving up in his career. He decided that when he saw his kids in school that he would do all he could to support us. He started with PTOs then ran for public office and has been one of Del Rio’s longest serving school board presidents. I grew up with a man of action and a man who cared about his community so it’s very much in my veins. Another mentor to me is Pablo Escamilla. He has been so influential in my career not only here in San Antonio, but even in Houston. He has been a really good source of knowledge for me as far as how far San Antonio has come. He helped start a movement in San Antonio called La Raza Unida party and their goal was to give Hispanics and other minorities a voice at the table. Through him I’ve was introduced to so many wonderful relationships, and these people continue to work so hard for San Antonio.
Tell us one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.
I and two other friends had a start-up company as a music label in Houston. It was a mostly hip-hop. My buddy Rick had friendships with Paul Wall and Slim Thug and was a tour DJ for Chamillionaire. From that experience, he started making beats and we were able to record some tracks and grow from there. The company was eventually restructured and I ended up going a different way, but it was really cool being around such creative people.