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David Damian Figueroa on risk takers: His journey out of the fields

The Insight tr3s article indicated Hispanic Millennials are risk averse.  The study cites examples such as living with their parents longer, more research before making purchases, and delaying marriage. Is this risk averse or just smart? Risks in my mind includes firsts; first in your family to attend university, first actress, pursuing a passion, or non-traditional career. I can point to historic figures that took a big risk but seemed shackled by their very success. This success was like an albatross, defining them. Bewildered with this paradox, I decided to speak with David Damian Figueroa on the anatomy of a risk taker.

David Damian serves as Vice President and Director of Strategic Development at MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) which is an exceptional accomplishment. However, if one considers his journey it’s all the more amazing. As a child and through his adolescence, he worked various jobs including fieldwork, cleaning houses, dish-washing, and bussing tables until he earned an opportunity to tour as a principal vocalist and dancer in ‘Up With People/Viva La Gente‘. He balanced his artistic passion by studying finance and accounting in college. Most recently, David Damian served as producer of the documentary film “The Harvest” with Eva Longoria as executive producer. He is currently working on “Food Chains” with Eva, Director Sanjay Rawal, and author, Eric Scholosser.  “Yolanda” is a narrative film he is developing with James Scurlock. He also performed in and executive produced “America, Our Home” with Ronstadt GenerationsThe David Damian Figueroa collection, “Dichos” was exhibited at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.  He seems to constantly push boundaries as a part of his very essence. David Damian, in my opinion, is a risk taker and he was kind enough to indulge my questions.

Q: Do you think your position at MALDEF makes you more willing to take risks?

DDF: MALDEF represents plaintiffs like dreamers, educators, car washers, day laborers, field workers…. They are some of the greatest risk takers.   Being so vulnerable and putting your livelihood on the line in the name of justice is so very inspiring to me. But to answer your question, I would have to say yes, I developed a bucket list while working at MALDEF!

Q: What is the biggest risk you took?

DDF: The biggest risk I have taken was moving to Los Angeles.  I didn’t know a single person in this huge city.  The first year I struggled financially.  Eventually, I worked my way up and had a solid career in entertainment.  In the late nineties I made a dramatic change when I started working for MALDEF.

Q: Of your failures (if any exist) do you regret it?

DDF: In the past I used to be generous to a fault.  I learned a valuable lesson.

Several years ago I was betrayed by someone I called a close friend, who later became a bully. That was a painful experience. At the time I felt like I had failed in being able to judge a person’s character. Today, I can’t say that I don’t regret it because they helped me to redefine the meaning of true friendship.

I believe risk takers are not necessarily risk takers.  In my case I get bored easily so I need to challenge myself. I do this through experiences or little acts of courage like jumping from a plane to cure my phobia of heights, standing up to a bully or sharing your true feelings about something in a public forum. The voice of my mother and a lot of her ‘dichos’ are forever engrained in my memory.  The one that stands out the most is “Todo Es POSIBLE.”


About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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