The fast-growing Latino population at Eastern Kentucky University can now look to the institution’s Board of Regents for role models.
Lewis Diaz, an attorney in northern Kentucky, and Juan Castro, an accountant in Lexington, took time out of their busy schedules to spend two hours with many of the University’s approximately 550 Latino students on Wednesday, Oct. 11, sharing their “Strategies for Success.” The event was part of the Latino Heritage Month celebration at EKU.
“I think Eastern is the only university in the South and Midwest outside the coastal states with two Latino board members,” Diaz said. “I think that’s impressive.”
The stories of how the two reached the U.S. are quite different, but both talked about the importance of finding mentors and building relationships.
“There’s no substitute for hard work, but no one who has made it made it on their own,” said Diaz, who emigrated from Cuba to Miami, Florida, as a child. “Relationships matter. Mentorships matter.”
Castro, 16 at the time of his move from Ecuador, remembers “kicking and screaming” when his family emigrated to Houston, Texas, upon his father’s appointment to the Ecuadorian Consulate in the nation’s fourth largest city. He struggled at first acclimating to his new surroundings.
Recalling the words of Winston Churchill, Castro reminded his audience that “success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”
"It took me 10 years to finish my first degree,” he noted, “but I thought I had earned the Nobel Prize. I was in heaven. I had finished something.”
Castro, appointed earlier this year as a Regent, earned his bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management and worked for a time in that field, but soon discovered another passion – accounting. He went on to earn an MBA degree with an accounting focus at EKU and today is a managing partner at JCC Accounting Solutions, and a founder and partner at JCC Consulting Group. He is also acting chair for the Lexington Hispanic Education Association, which is focused on helping Hispanic students set and achieve educational goals.
Diaz, an all-OVC football lineman at Eastern, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in public administration from EKU in 2000 and 2002, respectively, and his juris doctorate from Chase College of Law. He is now a partner with the law firm of Dinsmore and Shohl, LLP, Covington, but he vividly remembers living in a converted garage just a few blocks from the old Orange Bowl in Miami.
“I was poor growing up, but I had two parents who loved me, and that’s basically winning the genetic lottery,” Diaz said. “All my parents knew to do was work, and everything they had they invested in me and my brother. I’ve always felt I had an obligation to do the best I could do.”
For years, Diaz associated wealth with the amount of time someone had been in America. It wasn’t until he arrived at EKU that he “saw poor white people for the first time.” That’s when he realized that “poor doesn’t have a color.”
EKU was also where Diaz “learned how to lead.” When he was appointed as a Regent by Gov. Matt Bevin in 2016, he “knew immediately one thing I wanted to do was make Eastern as welcoming a place as it could be to people who look like us and grow the population of people who look like us.”
“We do it (serve on the board) because of you,” Castro added. “We want to give back to you guys. I’m not afraid of who I am. Be proud of your heritage.”
Inset photo: Castro (left) and Diaz