Eduardo Angeles: A Voice for the Voiceless
Eduardo Angeles was seven years old when he first stepped off a plane from the Philippines onto American soil. Today, as the managing attorney of the Los Angeles World Airports, Angeles is responsible for people from all nations taking that giant step.
"It's the Ellis Island of the Pacific," Angeles says of the complex, which is among the busiest in the world and includes Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International Airport, Van Nuys Airport, and Palmdale Regional Airport.
But while many children grow up dreaming of climbing the ladder of success, Angeles' goals were more modest.
"I was raised by a single mom and we lived below the poverty line," Angeles explains. "I grew up in the Mission district of San Francisco, where there were gangs and drugs, and the key was to get an education to get out."
He simply wanted to finish college and get a degree. But in his junior year, he met Joan Graff, executive director of the San Francisco Legal Aid Society.
"She was the first lawyer I had come to know, and she talked about her class action cases," he says. "I was always the 'save the world' liberal kind of guy and I wanted to make a difference, not to make money and get power, but to give a voice to my community, to be a voice for the voiceless."
Graff gave Angeles his wings, through an internship after his first year at Hastings College of the Law. The job provided an up close view of the groundbreaking class-action suit against the San Francisco Fire Department for its failure to hire and promote minorities and women. Ironically, he later became the fire department's general counsel.
"It was a real treat for me to carry on those policies," he says.
Angeles' commitment to diversity earned him the position, and led him to play a role on the frontlines of diversity in the workplace. He worked with both of the city's first Asian and African-American police chiefs as San Francisco's chief counsel of public protection, also supervising fire, sheriff, and other law enforcement agencies.
Angeles views his own ethnicity as a badge of the progress of American society.
"You can never jump out of your skin," he stresses. "You can only be who you are. The key is whether you let it get in the way. It's when you start giving good advice that people respect you as a lawyer and stop thinking of your ethnicity."
And Angeles has earned that respect. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the expertise he had acquired in San Francisco was needed in Los Angeles, and in 2002 he became the managing attorney of the Los Angeles World Airports.
"It's exciting," he says. "I take pride in my work as an aviation lawyer and working for the public's protection."
Angeles' work on behalf of the public extends beyond the nine-to-five.
"I was given the opportunity and I feel I must give back that opportunity to others," Angeles explains.
He urges people to "follow your dreams, because they do come true."
They certainly did for one seven-year-old kid named Eddie from the Philippines.
Tom Calarco is a freelance writer from Schenectady, N.Y. He is the author of The Underground Railroad Conductor, which is available for purchase online at www.travelsthruhistory.com/books.htm., and The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region.
From the March/April 2005 issue of Diversity & The Bar®