By Julio Sanchez
With just a few weeks into her new position as the interim dean of Continuing Education and Workforce Development, Mercedes Yanes is already planning ways to contribute to East Los Angeles College and its community in a positive way.
Yanes is a first-generation immigrant from Cuba. She left her home when she was six years old while her mother was pregnant with her sister.
“I remember leaving my family as a child and not understanding, but I knew a major milestone was happening,” Yanes said. “Fast forward years later, I miss growing up with my extended family like my cousins. I lost a lot of family gatherings and the connection that I had growing up.”
Yanes said that she tries to be an advocate and a voice for the community and for those who are afraid to speak up.
Yanes said that her dedication and her passion to help people has her excited to be a part of the campus.
“ELAC is such a loving and vibrant community,” Yanes said. “I want to be a part of that because it very much matches my goals and beliefs.”
Like many who move to the states from another country, Yanes and her family have had many struggles and challenges to deal with.
Yanes said she grew up in poverty and that she saw her parents sacrifice so much in order for her and her sister to have a successful life. Also, because English was not her first language, she had to overcome the language barrier as well.
“Although my parents made the sacrifice for myself and my sister to have the opportunities that we couldn’t have in Cuba, they couldn’t advocate for my sister and I,” Yanes said. “I was held back a year and I will never gain that back even though I could’ve tested out. We were given English as a Second Language classes and English classes in order to get caught up.”
Yanes has been an administrator for 14 years. She started out as a kindergarten teacher and moved on to serve on executive boards and executive positions like the president of district-wide union.
Yanes said that her work doesn’t feel like a job for her because affecting the lives of people in a positive way has always been a passion of hers.
“We make a difference and I really believe that we change lives,” Yanes said. “We have an impact in their (students’) future. And by having an impact in their future, we have an impact on future generations. And that affects our community, our state and our nation.”
Yanes said that since she has walked in the shoes of those less fortunate and at a disadvantage, she now dedicates her work, the causes that she pursues and volunteer time to give back to the community as much as possible.
Yanes’ colleague, Associate Dean Kendra Madrid, is also a new faculty member at ELAC.
Madrid said that she is very glad to work with Yanes because she shares the same passion when it comes to advocating and helping students become successful.
“She is very knowledgeable and I tend to lean on her a little bit for things because she has past experience,” Madrid said. “She’s known for getting the job done. When I had the chance to work with her, I had no problems with her work ethic, and I’m appreciative that I get to work with her very easily and that we get along great.”
In her volunteer time, Yanes advocates for different issues like union issues, ensuring that employee rights are acknowledged and improved through the working environment.
She also works with charities, international organizations and community centers.
Yanes said that her ultimate goal is to have students receive a degree and a career in the field they strive for. She is currently working on projects to bring to ELAC in order to increase benefits and programs for students.