Celina ZacariasJuly 23, 2018 — CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI)’s Celina Zacarias believes growing up in Oxnard’s La Colonia gave her the sense of community that helped earn her the 2018 Latino Leadership Award from the Pacific Coast Business Times.

Zacarias, who serves as the Senior Director of Community & Government Relations at CSUCI, received the honor July 19 at the 7th Annual Latino Business Awards ceremony, which was held at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach hotel.

“I was a child of the village,” Zacarias said of her childhood. “There were seven of us in the family and my parents were farmworkers. They didn’t speak English, but they were able to buy a house and put food on the table. I didn’t realize we were poor until I applied for financial aid for college.”

Her parents were gone all day at work, but everyone in the community helped one another get by, including when it came to keeping an eye on Zacarias and her four siblings.

“I had a lot of people looking out for me to keep me on track,” she said. “I was everybody’s daughter.”

Her parents were worried about Zacarias taking the city bus to the library, so the neighbors invited her to their house to use their encyclopedias. If her parents weren’t home the neighbors would enforce her parents’ rules if she happened to be playing outside when she shouldn’t be.

“It was ‘Get back in the house, Mija,’” Zacarias remembered.

The community expanded to include school, where a high school physical education teacher stepped in one day to comfort a crestfallen Zacarias.

“I had tried out for cheerleader and didn’t make it,” Zacarias said. “She reached out to me and said ‘You’ve got some real dancing ability. I want you to try out for my drill team.’”

Zacarias made the team, and learned it was about much more than dancing.

“She taught us discipline, commitment and the importance of keeping up our grades,” Zacarias said. “And if we didn’t show up on time or keep up our grades, we didn’t perform.”

Just as her neighbors had, Channel Islands High School drill team coach Virginia Wooten went out of her way to help. Because Zacarias’ parents could not drive her to team competitions, which were all over Southern California, Wooten drove Zacarias to and from competitions herself, for four years.

Zacarias graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Spanish and Hispanic Civilization, enjoyed a successful mortgage banking career for 25 years, then came to work at CSUCI. Zacarias was quick to get involved in the community, her new “village.”

Among her accomplishments, Zacarias initiated the first statewide Migrant Summer Leadership Institute at CSUCI. She served as Chair of the Board of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce last year and is Chair-elect of the Oxnard Chamber this year. Zacarias is also Chair of the Women’s Economic Roundtable, appointed by Ventura County District Five Supervisor John Zaragosa.

“The Business Times selected Celina Zacarias as our 2018 Latino Leadership honoree because of her community impact and her ability to connect CSUCI to a diverse population,” said Pacific Business Times Special Reports/Research Editor Chris Officer. “She’s a great role model and represents both the Latino community and CSUCI with tremendous class.”

Zacarias said she was surprised and delighted by the honor.

“I never considered myself a leader, but I’ve always been one of those people that if I saw something that needed to be done, I was ready to roll up my sleeves,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have had so many people in my life, so this is my way of giving back.”