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Senior Program Officer Jason Cordova discusses philanthropy’s responsibility and Hispanic Heritage Month

The Irvine Foundation is fortunate to have talented staff with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, and we want to introduce some of our colleagues to you. We spoke with Senior Program Officer Jason Cordova about his upbringing, his path to philanthropy, and how Hispanic Heritage Month can motivate us to impact our community. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about yourself.

My brother and I were raised by my mom, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in search of opportunity and to escape the civil war in Central America. She started out working low-wage jobs and learned English at night school. In the 1980s, she became a U.S. citizen under the immigration amnesty program. We didn’t have family here and were often forced to move around the Inland Empire based on what we could afford, so it was a village of friends, mentors, and community-based organizations that raised us – something that has inspired the work I’ve done for the past decade.

Eventually, we settled in Chino, CA, for my middle and high school years. Around this time, I got involved with Bright Prospect, a nonprofit that supports first-generation students to and through college. Once I graduated from Connecticut College, I returned and worked with Bright Prospect, where I met my wife, who also participated in the program and shared my lived experience, and began my career in community-based service.

How did you get into philanthropy?

I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for more than 10 years, primarily focused on economic and workforce development programs. A job in philanthropy wasn’t in the plan, but, funny enough, I’ve always had a connection to Irvine. Irvine awarded grants to a few different efforts that I have been engaged with, including Bright Prospect, Southern California College Access Network, and others that have positively impacted the Latinx community and me in the Inland Empire and Southern California. If it were not for Irvine’s investments, I am not sure I would be here today.

So, coming to Irvine feels like it was meant to be. I always valued the role of funders for their partnership and support of under-invested communities, especially Latinx communities.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

It gives me a sense of pride because I can showcase who I am and my personal history.

This month provides an opportunity to reflect on how much the Latinx community has influenced the fabric of American history with food, music, culture, and policy. Every place in the United States is connected to the Latinx population in some way, but I think that gets overlooked when a community lacks access to power. Our stories don’t always get attention and recognition.

It is also a reminder that there’s much work to do. The Latinx community is still over-represented among workers paid low wages in California. I have family members that do not have the same legal rights as I do. On one end, I get to be in a position of privilege and do what I love. On the other, I have family members that do not have the opportunity to enjoy the same benefits and opportunities for better wages and quality of life, due to their immigration status.

As a state and nation, we must continue to push the narrative that Latinx economic mobility is American economic mobility.

I feel fortunate to be at the Foundation and in philanthropy because I have the opportunity to share my lived experience with the field. It makes me think about what I can do to continue to lift the voices of people closest to the issues and improve working conditions, housing, and access to training and quality jobs.

What is Irvine’s role in advancing racial equity?

There is an opportunity to amplify voices that are often overlooked. At Irvine, we can direct resources to and support Latinx communities that are underinvested in across the state. We can drive discussions that expand access to living-wage jobs and encourage other funders to think critically about how they currently support Latinx communities and target areas that haven’t historically been funded.

I think as funders, we can also lean into discussions about policy that can drive systemic change around policies and practices that, by design, have forced immigrant populations into the shadows and resulted in increased poverty, higher incarceration rates, health disparities, and lack of access to quality jobs.

It comes down to demonstrating that we care. Theories and frameworks are helpful in advancing the work, but at the end of the day, we’re talking about people and their ability to thrive and prosper.