Ride through Life with the Window Wide Open
Leadership Lessons through Life Experiences by Carmen Nazario
Carmen Nazario, President and CEO of Elyon International, Inc. opens up about her background and the life experiences that helped shape and mold her leadership skills. Carmen believes we are a product of our environment and life experiences — everything, from our early life has an impact on how we respond to what comes along the way.
She begins by sharing a poem from Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark (www.chickensoup.com):
If I was anything like my dog
I’d greet everyone I know
With sheer enthusiasm.
I’d consistently react with joy
To a smiling face or a simple treat.
And I’d ride through life
With the window wide open
And gleefully welcome the breezes
Of experience in my face!
— Beverly F. Walker
(From Chicken Soup for the Soul, What I Learned from the Dog, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark. © 2009 Chicken Soup for The Soul Publishing)
I was born in Puerto Rico, USA; a small island straddling the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico is some 100 miles long by 35 miles wide (3,578 square miles, roughly nine times smaller than Cuba). When I was five years old, we moved from Costa Rica, where we had been living, to New Jersey.
I didn’t know a word of English, and the first words I ever spoke were in my kindergarten class. I remember being applauded by my classmates after I had spoken my first sentence in English. It motivated and informed me in a way that later helped provide the courage to face new challenges.
We moved back to Puerto Rico when I was ten years old. No real reason was given but I knew my father was not a big fan of shoveling snow, among other things that came with the winter months in New Jersey. It was a difficult move for my siblings and I.
By then, we had forgotten how to speak Spanish and other kids in school made fun of us pretty much all the time. They called us “Amerikuchi”, a derogatory term used to refer to anyone from mainland US— as in our case— who didn’t speak Spanish properly. It would be two years before my siblings and I learned to speak Spanish without an American accent. From then on, we were raised in a bilingual household.
Everyone spoke Spanish on the island, but being that Puerto Rico was and continues to be an American Commonwealth, English was a mandatory subject in schools. Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917.
Puerto Rico at that time was—and continues to be— a society that straddles two cultures. Even as American citizens, life and culture on the island is very different from life in the mainland US. For example, in Puerto Rican culture, neighbours were a kind of extended family, everyone shared daily events, moments big and small, food… everyone shared life. That isn’t necessarily so or as common in the States. Also, Puerto Ricans love to dance, I was dancing to “salsa” music back in the 60s. Back then, anytime there was an impromptu gathering, someone would pull out a record, play music and everyone would suddenly start dancing. I loved that part of my culture. Had we not left New Jersey and moved back to P.R., I might have never experienced that, especially as back in Jersey City we lived in a predominantly Irish neighborhood.
I also would not have experienced my grandparents’ little farm. They had mango, lemon, guava and avocado trees, lots of banana trees, sugar cane, breadfruit and other fruit trees. There were chickens running around, and the occasional pig. Every now and then one of the chickens would find its way into the pot for Sunday dinner. My grandmother would grab them by the neck and spin them around in the air to dispatch them into the next life.
There was a sugar cane plantation across the road, and not far away, the monstrous facility where the canes were converted to crystalline granules. It was a wonderful life at my grandparents … they were not rich but had enriched lives.
Growing up in two cultures prepared us for the world around us, one that was constantly changing—though we did not realize it at the time. My siblings and I shared big dreams. I remember my brother telling me that once he was finished with high school, he was coming back to the US to study. And he did. He was the first to leave, followed by my sister and I.
Up Next: The Takeaways from “Leadership Lessons…”
Click to view how Carmen’s life experiences helped her become a better leader.
About Carmen Nazario
Carmen Nazario is the President and CEO of ELYON International, Inc., a technology and management consulting company which provides technical and professional services to government agencies and corporations.
Carmen has over thirty years of experience in the field of Information Technology. She started her career in technology while serving in the US Army and has worked in numerous roles as Project Manager, Systems Analyst and Information Systems Consultant. Her extensive industry background includes: retail, education, health care, manufacturing, professional services and technology.
Carmen holds a Master of Theology degree from Faith Christian College and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Portland State University. She has completed Dartmouth TUCK’s Minority Business Executive Program, Howard University School of Business 8(a) Academy and SBA’s e200/Emerging Leaders executive-level training program. Carmen has a passion for small business, and is involved in community programs for mentoring students and women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses.
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