Elena Chavez Quezada is a Senior Program Officer at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, managing the economic security portfolio. She is also Head of Investments at the Chavez Family Foundation, which has supported Immigrants Rising’s entrepreneurship initiatives since 2017, and currently serves on the Leadership Council.
How did you first hear about our organization?
After my brother sold his company to Salesforce, he established a foundation in our parents’ honor called The Chavez Family Foundation. While he really wanted to focus on the intersection of immigration, education, and entrepreneurship, I initially encouraged him to focus on just the first two.
I talked to another funder, Zellerbach Family Foundation, which recommended E4FC [Educators for Fair Consideration, now known as Immigrants Rising] as a grantee. I met with a few people at E4FC who did not qualify for DACA, because they came at over 16 or when they were a little older.
One of them, Maritza, said her life is the intersection of immigration, education, and entrepreneurship, and that those 3 things can’t be separated. I thought, “My brother was totally right.” Immigration is the headline, but I think the way it overlaps with those other two issues is really important. E4FC became our family foundation’s first grantee.
How has being involved with E4FC impacted your understanding of undocumented immigrants?
Even though I come from undocumented immigrants, I’m pretty far removed from that now. E4FC has really shaped my understanding, personalized it in a way, in having to think more about what my family went through a couple generations ago.
It has also really influenced my work on economic security at the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, helping me to think more about how the asset building and financial needs of immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, are shifting. Entrepreneurship is one of the most compelling opportunities to provide for your family, and that’s a huge uncharted space that Immigrants Rising is working on. I hope the organization can give a new generation of undocumented immigrants the tools they need to thrive economically, acting as a ray of light and hope in a really dark time.
I am also really blown away by the people who work there. At a staff training, I realized, “Wow, the challenges and fears of the folks that they’re working with in schools and in other settings are the same ones that the staff and their families are dealing with every day.” As I listened to all of the staff members in the room share their stories, I knew it would be a meeting I’d never forget. The combination of talent, persistence, hope, and clearly focused passion was unlike anything I’ve seen.
What are your thoughts for the organization and the undocumented community as we continue to fight for immigrant rights?
My mind is blown away by how strong and resilient and inspiring the community is. And I appreciate how Immigrants Rising is constantly asking itself, “How can we do better? How can we improve our lives, our families’ lives, and our communities?”
Part of what is so amazing is it’s not just about one person. This community really is there for everyone, lifting each other up, and wholly accepting the challenges and strengths of each person.