As district director of the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Alberto Alvarado heads up the largest SBA lending office in the country. In the last three years, the L.A. office of the SBA has loaned nearly $2.4 billion to some 7,300 businesses and $1.1 billion to more than 3,800 minority-owned businesses. Alvarado oversees 47 employees and a total annual loan portfolio of nearly $1 billion. Though he never was a businessman, Alvarado knows a little something about working his way up. He grew up in the Boyle Heights community of East Los Angeles and was the first person in his family to go to college, gaining admission to Yale University. He went on to get a law degree from Stanford University and had brief stints as an appellate court clerk and congressional field representative before arriving at the SBA as a staff attorney in 1983.

Question: You grew up in what many would call the barrio in Boyle Heights and ended up going to Yale. How did that happen?
Very simply, Yale recruited me. Remember, this was the late 1960s. I had done well in school, was valedictorian in my high school class and Yale was looking for diversity.

Q: Were you the first in your family to go to college?
Yes. I was raised by my mother, who never went beyond the second grade. So when I got to the third grade, I could say I was the success of my family.

Q: So what motivated you to excel?
My mother and grandmother who raised me were really strong women. They had incredible drive in their limited world. They instilled a sense of hard work in me, which translated into the classroom. At first, I had a little trouble with the English language, so it took me a little while to grab hold of schooling. But I had great role models at school, including my high school English teacher, George Crook.

Q: Your mother must have been very proud.
That reminds me of a little story. When I was attending Yale, and some of my old friends would come around my mother's home in Boyle Heights, they would ask where I was. She would say, in her broken English, that I was "at jail." What she really meant to say was "at Yale." That of course caused some of my old friends to wonder where I really was.

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