In My Reality, an editorial series from D CEO, North Texas executives share their personal experiences of diversity and bias. Amanda Moreno-Lake, Oak Cliff real estate developer, discussed her pride in her Mexican roots, passion for representing her community, and struggles as an entrepreneur without a degree.
“I come from very humble beginnings. My parents are immigrants from Mexico, and I grew up in West Dallas in an 800 square-foot home—nine people, one bathroom. My dad was a very hard worker, and he always said the United States was the land of opportunity. My parent’s bravery to leave their country for a better life taught me how to work hard, have commitment and dedication, and perseverance not to give up in my career. In real estate, I think many people do give up even when they’re almost there.
“When I began working in real estate on my own, there were people who didn’t think I could afford to buy property. They would ask me where my father was. I’ll never forget the time I was interested in a piece of real estate in Waxahachie. I asked to see the land, and the real estate agent kept asking for my father to come. I remember calling the bank and asking them to speak to the agent to tell him that I could purchase the property. That’s just one example of many challenges I have experienced that I’ve overcome.
Overcoming Discrimination without a Degree
“Discrimination can happen in so many different ways. I think that a lot of times, people are extremely judgmental. They view you based on the way you look, don’t know anything about you, and don’t give you that opportunity. I struggled with that. They underestimated me as the key to my success because they didn’t realize I am extremely smart.
“It’s been tough because I don’t have a degree, but I have a lot of work experience. Individuals sometimes won’t give you an opportunity because you don’t have a degree, closing doors. But I believe that a degree doesn’t guarantee success. It’s your hard work and commitment. I’ve been extremely persistent. When somebody says ‘no’ to me, it becomes a challenge for me to figure out a way to go about it anyway. When somebody doesn’t allow me to really want, I work at it and figure it out. There are so many different ways to get to the end. You have to figure out what your way is and what works best for you.
Representing the Community
“I got involved in planning development areas like Oak Cliff, because I wanted to represent my community. There’s a lot of Hispanics there that have language barriers. They can’t speak the language and don’t understand the process. I wanted to represent the Hispanic community and be involved in where the decisions are being made. If you’re late to the game and don’t have a seat at the table, how will you have a voice?
“I’m grateful to the city council people. They gave me an opportunity, and I was able to get involved in these planned development areas. Being around important commissioners in planned development has been my college education. I learned about infrastructure, economic development, and transportation. The opportunities given to me from being on board have been a wonderful experience.
“I have a passion for bringing old buildings back to life. I enjoy allowing small businesses to revitalize their areas. It’s actually more difficult to redevelop than it is to build from the ground up. When you’re developing from the ground up, you develop the specs and know how much you will be spending. When you’re redeveloping, it’s like Pandora’s box. You don’t know what you’re going to find until you start taking it down to the skin and bones of the building. Sometimes you can’t have an actual budget because you don’t know what you’re going to get into.
Women in the Workplace
“In real estate, you have to have tough skin. There are not many women in commercial urban redevelopment, and it’s tough, but it makes me work one-hundred times better. There is a need for more women to get involved in redeveloping. I try to encourage young women to get into real estate if that’s their passion, whether it’s going to college or finding a trade. I tell women, ‘Educate yourself, go the extra mile, and find out what you need to know.’ I believe that, as women, we should help and uplift each other. I don’t understand why we are sometimes so hard on each other. Can you imagine if we all just worked together and helped each other be successful?
“Since I married my husband, things have changed for me. Before that, people wouldn’t even give me the opportunity. My husband’s last name has helped me, but I am proud of my maiden name, so that’s why I go by ‘Moreno-Lake.’ It’s the name I was born with, and it honors my father and my family. I never want to lose my identity of where I come from or my Mexican roots that I’m very proud of.
Establishing New Mindsets
“We need to start having a different mentality. Sometimes people think, ‘Why doesn’t this person have a degree? She doesn’t have what it takes.’ But maybe that person didn’t have an opportunity to go to college, and their parents didn’t go to college. Maybe they started working at a young age and became a successful entrepreneur. For me, my college degree is my life experience as a business owner.
“I think organizations should have sensitivity training and really look at the target market in their area to understand what the need is, diversifying it, and having different genders and races involved in a community. That needs to start from the top where the decisions are being made. I have seen some changes since the beginning of my career, but there’s still a big gap. A lot of people are sitting in positions that can make change happen. If it doesn’t start from the leadership at the top, it’s never going to happen.”
If you’re a North Texas business or nonprofit leader and would like to participate in D CEO’s My Reality series, please contact [email protected].