The nonprofit organization focuses on Latin American leadership in the “classroom, community, and workforce” and offers grants and programs. His partners are as varied as Nordstrom and the NFL, but Tijerino’s favorite part is working with young people. This month, the foundation helped launch the first Latino-themed Minecraft, a video game that is expected to expose 30 million children to social justice and environmental issues. He’s also proud of a partnership with Google that aims to teach 100,000 young Latinos to code.
“He has a vision that’s usually bigger than a lot of people around him,” said longtime friend Michael Echols ’90, a member of the foundation’s board of trustees. “He’s always had that intensity and that passion, and he’s constantly trying to build bridges. … It’s a recipe for growth and success.
But this success took time. Tijerino remembers struggling with stereotypes and low expectations — often in meetings dominated by older, white men — as he rose through the ranks at public relations firms and big companies like Nike. But he earned respect by coming up with ideas and participating in projects, and was eventually approached for his dream job with the foundation, of which he has now been president for two decades.
Tijerino, an immigrant from Nicaragua, is proud of the work the foundation does to support migrants. Photo courtesy of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.
“I have a job where I’m in community service all day, and I can do whatever the community needs or wants,” he said. “I couldn’t be more fulfilled in any way in my life: friends, family and work.”
That’s why he’s eager to share his unlikely journey, as a Nicaraguan immigrant who went from sleeping in his car to running a national nonprofit founded by the White House, with other Terps. He stayed connected by serving on the advisory board of the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the board of trustees of the University System of Maryland, and he spoke at UMD’s Latinx graduation celebration. , where he was amazed by the size of the crowd.
“When I was at the Latino Student Union, there were only five of us gathered in a booth at Roy Rogers!” he said.
He urges students to be proud of their identities and to raise their voices.
“You are educated to a very high standard. It comes with the responsibility of representing those who are not in class, internship or work,” Tijerino said. “Remember what you have inherited from your parents and ancestors. Your culture should be an inspiration, not something you hide.