Maria Cabildo: 2015 HIPGiver

Maria Cabildo Photo 200Maria Cabildo, East LA Community Corporation Co-Founder Written by Miguel Oropeza As a civic activist, Maria Cabildo knows how to latch onto dreams and blow life into them. As an urban planner by training and president of a nonprofit, she has specialized in creating opportunities while protecting the character of the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Boyle Heights, gateway of East Los Angeles. Seeing a need for an organization to engage in public advocacy and community organizing on behalf of low-income residents, Cabildo and three others established the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) in 1995. It has since mobilized hundreds of neighbors for community planning and to fight the displacement of longtime residents. It has secured more than $155 million for community development and affordable housing. Cabildo sees herself as an herramienta, a tool that allows low-income eastside residents to unleash their potential and vision. “I take pride in leading [ELACC] with corazón and investing in leadership inside and outside the organization,” she said. Boyle Heights, an important Southern California Jewish center until World War II, shifted to become the heart of the growing Mexican-American community. But in the mid-20th century, it was broken up with the construction of five freeways. “For our community, the freeways meant the loss of an estimated 25 percent of our housing stock, the displacement of thousands, and environmental degradation,” Cabildo wrote in a essay series funded by the California Community Foundation. “Today, the freeways remain my daily reminder of what happens when a community lacks power and decisions are made by people other than those that will be impacted.” Her father, Miguel Z. Cabildo, was a Mexican-born tailor, who altered the wardrobes of Hollywood stars from a Beverly Hills shop. She lives in East Los Angeles, where she was born. She says he inspired her through his work ethic and his family and community commitments. And he taught her a big lesson. “You could give of yourself, you could give your time to make the community a better place, and you can have an impact regardless of your economic means,” she recalled. Cabildo also came to realize that she was, in her own words, “able to pursue opportunities that have been unique and not readily available to many Latina/os.” She attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, in New Hampshire, earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in New York City and a UCLA master’s in urban planning. Cabildo also encourages others to give back to their own communities. “Allow yourself to pursue the work that is deeply meaningful to you. Do not make excuses for why you can’t do X, Y and Z,” she said. “By pursuing meaningful work with authenticity and integrity, you will inspire others to follow your example, or at least make them take note of the importance of giving.”
The 31 HIPGivers recognized in 2015 are collectively altering the landscape for our country. They are pushing the envelope by asking for more – more consideration, more awareness, more compassion, more action, more giving.