The Legacy of David Contreras.
February 12th, 1965. While most Houstonians were finalizing Valentine’s Day plans or just trying to avoid the chill of winter, there was something remarkable going on behind the walls of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 60 meeting. Currently, LULAC stands as one of the most respected Hispanic civil rights organizations. But, as history often tells us, people have to think big to build a powerhouse like this.
One of those people is Ernest Eguia.
On that February 12th meeting, Eguia pitched a unique project idea. He wanted to pioneer a program that registers, classifies, and refers Mexican American applicants to industry jobs. Meeting attendees, such as Joe Ramon, championed the idea. While we do not have all of the details on what was said, the fact that the pitch passed unanimously after Council President Roy Martinez called for a vote is telling.
“I didn’t realize there was history in the making.”
After the motion passed, the real work began. LULAC Council 60 had a lot of work to bring this vision to life. During one of the program committee meetings, LULAC National President (1965) Robert Ornelas agreed that the project would be called “LULAC Jobs for Progress.” Eventually, this jobs initiative would gain valuable partnerships with the American GI Forum, Department of Labor, and the Navy and evolve into “Operation SER.”
As the organization came of age, so did its dedicated volunteers. Ernest Eguia began to urge his nephews to participate in LULAC’s work. So, in 1965, David Contreras joined the Junior LULAC Council. Contreras started volunteering in this dedicated Latino space when SER Houston opened at the LULAC Council 60 clubhouse. Due to the Junior council’s focus on culture and social involvement, Contreras says he “… didn’t realize that there was history in the making.”
As Contreras reflects on his time with the Junior Council, he says that at a young age, his father moved their family “…out of the ‘barrio’ and into a predominantly white neighborhood.” So, joining the council was the first time he was genuinely immersed in Latino culture, a cultural shift that ignited a passion for giving back to the Latino community.
After years of working with LULAC through the Junior Council, Contreras participated in a SER job fair in 1970. Contreras still finds himself “especially grateful to SER for the job opportunity” from this event. SER helped him earn a position with Star Motor Car that allowed him to pay for his second year of college at the University of Houston. Contreras majored in Bank Administration and graduated from First City National Bank.
“Not many people that looked like me were in managerial positions.”
After a decade of hard work, Contreras found himself in a groundbreaking position. When Latino corporate officers were scarce, Contreras was elected Vice President of First City Bank. When speaking with Contreras, he highlighted the magnitude of this victory by bringing up his father, “My father was also educated. He had an engineering degree but worked for people without degrees.” Both Contreras and SERJobs are aware of the critical nature behind the word opportunity. So often, people are stuck, not because they are incapable of working hard, but because they haven’t been given a fair chance.
Contreras spent a total of 45 years in the Bank and Operations Technology sphere. Despite retiring in 2016, Contreras remains a fixture in Houston’s Latino community.
For example, Contreras spends time joining the SERJobs team during BankWork$ programs. Participants come to us ready to build a better life for themselves, and Contreras shares his expertise with them. He also serves as a Board Member for Talento Bilingue De Houston, a visual and literary arts initiative that preserves and promotes Latino culture.
Contreras notes that “SER has played a significant role in my life and that of my family.” While Contreras has benefited from his time with SER, SER also has a lot to thank Contreras and his family for. Ernest Eguia ignited a passion for creating excellence within the Latino community. This passion helped LULAC and SER come together to build upon this excellence through workforce advancement.
David Contreras began giving back to the Latino community at a young age and carried on his uncle’s passion and altruism. On top of volunteering with SER and serving as a Board Member for Talento Bilingue De Houston, Contreras also spends his time researching and documenting Latino history and working with LULAC high school youth groups.
When asked what advice Contreras would give to those that feel like they cannot be helped or are hesitant to reach out to SER, he said, “I would encourage them not to feel that way. People go to SER to help identify their skills, talents, and passions.” With a banking background, he also emphasized the importance of our BankWork$ program.
Sometimes, bank teller training is just what you need to reach your goals. “My daughter worked as a teller,” he mentions. Years later, “she has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Marketing.” When asked where she is now, he proudly let us know that she is an Executive at HEB.
As Contreras and his family exemplify, the work done at SERJobs goes beyond workforce solutions. From Contreras’ uncle to his daughter, we work to build community, passion and pave the way for a legacy of excellence in Houston’s Latino community.