Everyone’s heard the stale saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and I must admit that when I first picked up this book (on loan from Being Latino’s Lance Rios) I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I did—I in fact came to love it. This is not a critique on the stylish book design, as it is a commentary on the type of books I generally read and often review—cultural non-fiction and original fiction. From the Barrio to the Board Room is a tightly-wound and edited memoir, told by a man with praiseworthy compassion and ambition. As a Latino man who lost his own father to chronic drug addiction and was raised by an encouraging and strong mother, Renteria’s story was haunting for me to take in—I often closed my eyes and shook my head at my own remembrances. Kudos for a story filled with moving tragedy and triumph!
At a time when Latinos are breaking through so many cultural barriers, this book could not have surfaced at a better time. Latinos, and working-class men in this book’s context, are commonly disabled through a lack of strong male mentors and positive, goal-oriented thinking and this is often compensated with “jailbird” bravado. Renteria’s story begins with his childhood in the impoverished East Los Angeles barrios, where at an early age he connects with other young men in his demographic through wild living, drugs, alcohol, and gangster culture. Like many of us who are more fortunate than others, Renteria had at least one forward-thinking male mentor, his grandfather Rogerio, who encouraged him to leave the slums of L.A. to find himself and make himself a better man—to dodge the fate the ghetto was waiting to dole out to him.
Following time spent in the US Army, Renteria focused on impeccable work ethic and honesty and won his first big break that saw him climb the corporate ladder. But he also witnessed the racism inherent to white, privileged male corporate culture—he was refused growth opportunity because of his Latino identity (though it was never said directly). Using this as inspiration, he set out to found his own empire. From the Barrio to the Board Room is a rags-to-riches story and beyond. It’s also about injecting compassion into corruption, to forge a new corporate culture of honesty and integrity, as any hardworking Latino would set out to do. This is a must-read for any young person who needs to read firsthand the wisdom of the book’s umbrella statement, “Don’t let where you came from dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you become.”
Charlie Vázquez is a radical Cuban-Puerto Rican writer born and raised in the Bronx. He maintains an author website and blog at http://www.firekingpress.com and is a literary event organizer in New York City.
by Charlie Vázquez