Growing up in Los Angeles the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Manuel Bernal ’87 knows well the financial struggles of families who move to the city in search of job opportunities and bright hopes for their children’s futures.
It’s a life experience that led him in 1995 to co-found and serve as the inaugural executive director of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC), which develops affordable housing, engages in community organizing and administers economic development programs in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. His commitment to serve led him in 1999 to the Cesar Chavez Foundation (CCF), which works to uphold the legacy of the iconic labor leader and community organizer through programs targeting Latinos and working families. Since 2017, Bernal has served as CCF’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Based on my talents and passion, I felt a commitment and obligation to serve,” Bernal says. “It was a way to pay back my parents, who gave their kids a better place to live. That really guided me, and my dream got bigger.”
Bernal enrolled at Occidental after receiving a generous financial aid package. He majored in economics, which gave him the analytical skills to tackle the challenges of underrepresented communities.
Throughout his career at ELACC and CCF, Bernal has provided internships to Oxy students, in addition to being a long-time supporter of the Obama Scholars Program, a loan-free financial package that covers tuition, housing and other expenses to students pursuing leadership roles.
“The least I can do is provide experiences for Oxy students to explore their own trajectories,” he says. “As time went on, I had a sense of obligation to Occidental, and I now have the capacity to give back. If we can make Oxy students and graduates key participants in improving people’s lives, that’s a proud legacy for the College.”