Mickey Ibarra’s smile and laughter is contagious, even through the phone, when I chatted with him during a Monday morning interview. According to Ibarra, there are only two types of days, “good days and better days”. A wonderful leadership statement from a Latino leader. A sentimental statement from a biracial foster kid.
Before Ibarra had the prestigious titles of “Founder”, “President”, “Director of The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs”, and “Author”, he was a kid from Salt Lake City.
From Utah To California
Ibarra life started in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1951. He was born to a white, Mormon, 16-year-old mother, and a Mexican immigrant father. Remember, Ibarra was born in 1951. A time before biracial children were the norm and before “Teen Mom” was a hit show on MTV. His younger brother David was born 11 months later. When Ibarra was just 2 years old, his mother made the difficult choice to put her two young boys into the foster care system. Ibarra and his brother were put in the care of the Smith family who cared for the boys.
“David and I struggled with our identity. Adults and children will ask, ‘Mickey if your name is Ibarra, why are you living with the Smiths?’,” shared Ibarra.
Fast forward 13 years and at the age of 15, Mickey and David visited their father. Their father, Francisco had since moved to Sacramento and opened up a beauty salon called the Mona Lisa House of Beauty. After visiting their father, Mickey knew his brother David wanted to live there.
The brothers varied in skin tone; Mickey being more fair skin and David with more of a darker skin complexion. This was Mickey’s first taste of prejudice.
“David was struggling in Utah. He was always angry, I knew if David didn’t move, he wasn’t going to survive there,” said Ibarra.
At the age of 15, Ibarra started to learn from his father and his father’s family about what it meant to be Mexican-American.
“I have never met someone so proud to be Mexican, so proud to be from Oaxaca,” stated Ibarra.
White House To Business Owner
When you Google Mickey Ibarra, the first thing that shows up is his time in the White House.
He started his career as an assistant and then as Director of The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs under the Clinton Administration. In that role, he was a liaison between mayors, governors, and senators to the president. A perfect role for a natural born “negotiator” that is an assistant role to the president, a role that gave him personal access to President Clinton.
“The mayors wanted to meet the president and guess what, he did too,” Ibarra told Epifania.
During his time at the White House, he met and worked with the honoree for the Latino Leaders Luncheon, Maria Echaveste. Echaveste was the Deputy Cheif of Staff.
“That was the last time, two Latinos have worked together in those roles,” Ibarra told Epifania.
On his last day with President Clinton, January 20, 2001, Ibarra found himself starting a new career.
He never thought he would start a business but with the encouragement from his brother, David, he founded the Ibarra Strategy Group which focused on Latino advocacy and intergovernmental affairs. Clients include Verizon, Walmart, PBS and other large national organizations. This year Ibarra Strategy Group is celebrating its 17th anniversary.
A Leader Leading Leaders
Now today, Ibarra is sharing his story at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, at the Latino Leaders Network Leaders Luncheon. The organization’s 53rd event since its creation and the first Leaders Luncheon in Silicon Valley. He started the Latino Leaders Network for one reason.
“To celebrate our community heroes,” explained Ibarra.
And does this organization celebrate heroes? With Ibarra’s background in the White House, it is no wonder that the organization has a Tribute To Mayors series. A series that celebrates a Mayor that is doing right by the Latino community.
These Leaders Luncheons are not meant for Ibarra to talk, but to bring together like-minded leaders.
Out of these luncheons came the book, Latino Leaders Speak. A collection of Latino stories.
“Our youth needs to read these stories, to know the heroes in our Latino community. It is my hope that this book reaches the hands of everyone that wants it. That it is in libraries and schools,” shared Ibarra.
As we end our call, I noticed that Ibarra used the words “share”, “community”, “unity” and “heroes” a lot. His whole ethos is to share other people’s stories instead and to build people up. Mickey Ibarra is a true testament to living the “American Dream” with humility and humanity.