When many people think of influential Latino leaders, they think of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who are represented in a recent biopic.
That’s where the discussion began for Lilyan Prado Carrillo, a motivational speaker for Cool Speak: the Youth Engagement Company, speaking to students as part of the School District U46 Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration during an assembly at Ellis Middle School Monday.
Prado asked students to identify any differences noted between images of the two civic leaders and the characters that appear in the biopic.
“Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez are not some made up character, these are the real people that worked for a cause and made a difference,” Prado Carrillo said. “Real people like your mom and dad. Real people like your grandma. Real people like your teachers. Real people like you.”
Prado Carrillo said the hope is that she can change the idea many hold that fame and perfection are necessary to make a difference in the world. The message conveyed is hoped to empower the voices of students, even as many find themselves feeling powerless, she said.
“There are so many stories of young kids your age and younger, or a little bit older, that are making a difference in a difference in this world, right here in the United States—maybe even right here in Chicago and Elgin and Illinois,” she said. “There are things that they are doing to make a difference for other people.”
Prado said she knows this to be true because of her own past and where life has taken her.
Prado, who grew up in Guatemala, said times became challenging for her father to find work to the point that he chose to leave his family, with the idea in mind that he’d come back for them.
That situation panned out according to plan for a four-year-old Prado Carrillo and her family.
“I remember little parts and I remember getting to the part where we had to cross the Rio Grande,” she said. “My dad took my sister and we crossed the (river). He put me on top of his shoulders and then we started crossing. My mom had someone else and she was following along. I remember just that, and being scared and tugging him, grabbing on his hair, making sure that I had a hold of him, so that he wouldn’t drop me… We made that voyage.”
Prado Carrillo said they felt relieved upon settling in Texas.
That excitement didn’t last that long.
“We lived in a trailer park, and it was not very nice,” she said. “It was not expected of the United States—this glamorous place that was going to be so much better than where we came from.”
Prado said that her dad started drinking. Living in the states provided her mother with her first opportunity to pursue work. But she said it appeared to her that her mother was behaving oddly and sought opportunities to leave the house.
One day, her mother wouldn’t return.
Prado Carrillo remembers standing strong at the time, but it became the type of situation where she’d ask herself if she was responsible for her parent’s split.
Prado Carrillo said life wasn’t always easy growing up without her mother in the picture, but they did the best they could.
“Any anger that I had or anything like that, I had to forgive,” she said. “Even the day that my mom day left, I forgave her the very same day… If you don’t forgive, all that hate and that anger and resentment, it just makes you feel sick. It makes you not accept that help that teachers and people around here want to help you so that you can be better, right?”
Prado noted that her father kept raising the level of expectation for his daughter while in school, and said he always wanted more from her.
That message propelled her to take honors classes in high school, attend college and complete an internship through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C.
Today, Prado Carrillo works as a motivational speaker and a financial aid specialist, who travels around the country to inspire students and parents to become leaders in their communities.
Christian Everastico, 12, of Elgin, was one of many people seated in the auditorium for Prado Carrillo’s talk. He said his parents immigrated to the U.S., much like Prado Carrillo’s had years ago.
“It was hard for them because they didn’t know anyone here and how they moved from state to state,” Everastico said, noting that his parents hoped to provide a better life for the family.
Everastico said his parents have been encouraging all of his life and that’s helped him to find interest in math and science.
“I would like to go for engineering,” he said of his future aspirations.
Jaqueline Espinosa, 13, of Elgin, said she found the talk was helpful.
“It inspired me a lot to like reach for my personal best and reach for higher things in my expectations to meet them,” she said.
Espinosa said her parents often talk about their experience when they first moved to the states from Mexico.
“My mom was telling me the other day how her uncle brought her over here,” she said, noting that it was challenging.
Espinosa said she hopes to have a big house, go to college and become a teacher.
Prado Carrillo said if there’s anything students can takeaway from her talk, it’s the belief that all it takes is to reach high for your dreams and reach down to help others in achieving theirs.
“Everything that I’m seeing in you, your eyes, where you’re sitting, you’re family…” she said. “Whenever I’m looking at you, I’m looking at myself. Whenever I see you, I see myself.”