16 | SEP | 2019
Photo: courtesy of Jaime Lucero

Jaime Lucero, entrepreneur turned pro-immigrant philanthropist

16/12/2016
16:20
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He is the founder of Casa Puebla, which helps immigrants find housing, work, health services and legal advice

Jaime Lucero was a child growing up in Independencia, Puebla together with his six sisters and brother when his father passed away and his mother decided to move to Mexico City to continue her academic studies, leaving him and his siblings behind. After finishing middle school, Jaime decided that he needed a new direction and asked his sister Rosa and brother Julio to help him move and start a new life in the U.S.

Jaime Lucero witnessed Mexico's Independence Day on September 15, 1975 from both sides of the border, an experience that terrified him at the time. While he left behind the country he had lived in for 18 years, he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to embark on his own American dream. In an interview with EL UNIVERSAL, Jaime explained that “the river comes up to your neck and you don't know if it will sweep you away every time you take a step.”

Two days after arriving in Queens, New York, with his brother Julio, he found a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant where he worked up to 14-hour shifts a day for 110 dollars a week. There, like other immigrants, he was constantly picked on for not speaking English. So, in his first attempt to learn the language, he asked his coworkers to read three pages a day from the book Alive, the bestseller at the time about the now-famous survivors of the plane that went down in the Andes. He would then take the book home and reread and study the pages that had been read to him earlier in the day.

Concerned with losing his culture and traditions, Jaime and a group of compatriots established the Club Azteca in 1978, which after initially meeting at places with traditional Mexican music, they went on to rent a small space in the second floor of a building on 106th St. in Queens and where club members took English lessons. “That place was like a palace to us because we had done all the repair work ourselves,” recalled Jaime. However, after the club grew in size and more and more people went in and out of the building, police investigated the space and found several building code violations, forcing them to close their doors.

During that time, Lucero received a promotion at the restaurant where he worked and studied to become an IBM technician, which also earned him a substantial raise. But that wasn't enough for Jaime, and after six years of being with his employer, he bought one of the trucks he had learned how to operate in installments and began his own truck driving business. Then, in 1986, thanks to amnesty granted to illegal immigrants under Ronald Reagan, Jaime became a U.S. citizen, which allowed him to grow his textile import company, Gold & Silver, which today employes 350 people.

Why do you continue to help immigrants?

“I empathize with their plight. I believe in God, and they are my brothers and sisters. You don't abandon your brothers and sisters. Their journey is arduous and dangerous, and everyone turns their back on them.”

Despite the abrupt end of Club Azteca, the group continued to meet in different locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. This led to his new project in 1999, the most important and meaningful for Jaime: Casa Puebla, which was named after the Mexican state Jaime was born in, but saw him grow up in a faraway city. Casa Puebla's mission is clear, if an immigrant—regardless of their nationality—is in a difficult situation, Casa Puebla helps them find housing, work, health services and legal advice.

As the organization's leader and thanks to his successful company that allows Jaime to fund Casa Puebla, he's identified a major problem that affects not only Mexicans, but Latin Americans in general: not having access to education as a result of their illegal status in the country. “We're undocumented, which bars our people from continuing their studies.”

To change this, Jaime came up with the idea of inviting representatives of The City University of New York (CUNY) to his organization's Cinco de Mayo celebration. CUNY is the largest urban education system in the entire U.S., with 25 campuses in the New York metropolitan area, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn, and where over 500,000 students are currently enrolled. During the event, where dozens of families attended, Jaime told the representatives: “these young people who are growing up desperately need a college education.” Jaime says the representatives were taken aback by the sheer number of people. “It really puts things into perspective when you see that many people together.”

“Education is vital to achieve political and economic power, which is what our community needs in order to progress.” Thanks to his work, Jaime was able to create a partnership with CUNY, which now allows undocumented immigrants to enroll and complete their education at their campuses. In his honor, CUNY created the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute.

Also, in 2015 Jaime Lucero was presented by Mexico's Foreign Minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, with the Othli Award, which recognizes Latino leaders who make significant contributions to the well-being and development of the Mexican community in the U.S.. In 2000 when he was council member of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, Jaime recalls telling government officials during a discussion about scholarships: “I'll match whatever the government decides to give students.”

 

 

 

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