Every day as a child, I crossed the border from Juarez, Mexico to attend school in El Paso, Texas. Spanish was my first language, but I had to learn English to attend school in the US, as well as every other part of American life and culture.
My day began at 5:30 a.m. to get dressed, eat breakfast, and then head to the border to attend Radford School, a private school I enrolled in at age 9. I wasn’t the stereotype you might have in mind. My family enjoyed a membership at the country club, a beautiful home, and plenty of food, clothes, and toys. My parents just wanted me to have the best education. I had an ideal life.
That is, until I turned thirteen years old when the drug war in Mexico was spreading across the country and drug lords were burning homes and murdering people in our neighborhood. And then my father disappeared. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since 2008.
Suddenly, my family went from “having it all” to having nothing. In addition to being the leader of our household, my father was my family’s only source of income. Since he was gone, we were evicted from our home and had our cars repossessed. My mother sold all her heirloom jewelry and her wedding ring to put food on the table for our family.
That’s when we moved to El Paso, Texas permanently, into a rough neighborhood where we were crammed into a small two-bedroom apartment. My brother, who was twenty-four years old at the time, became our new head of household. He sacrificed his medical aspirations to work at a call center from home to help get us through as best he could. He was then, and is still today, my hero.
Two years later we moved to Dallas, and I turned 16, which made me eligible to work. My father had always affirmed to me that I could overcome anything this life throws at me, and I believed him. I was left with a few choices but I knew I could let my circumstances break or make me. I would not be a burden to my mother and brother, I would be a blessing.
In high school, I worked multiple jobs–bussing at the Egg & I restaurant during the week and serving at Roy’s fine-dining on the weekend. At the same time, I joined my school’s athletics teams and became an all-state wrestler and an all-district running back.
My hard work paid off: I was recruited to play football at Texas Lutheran University. My first semester there, I didn’t have a car or a job, and was just getting by thanks to some financial aid.
Then, at the beginning of my second semester, my brother called to tell me that our mother had been struggling with some mental issues while I was away. She could no longer take care of herself and maintain a job. I knew I needed a job to pay my way through college, help my family financially, and make ends meet.
So I convinced a friend with a car to get a job with me at a restaurant so I could get a ride to work and make some quick cash. Then, I recruited four other friends to work at this restaurant so I could get coverage on all the transportation to my multiple shifts until I could afford my own car. I worked fifty-plus hours a week, took fifteen hours of classes, and kept up with my football schedule.
After the off-season ended for football, I made the difficult decision to quit football, as the lack of sleep and concentration started taking a toll on my body. As for the summer in between semesters, I worked eighty-hour weeks to make as much money as I could so I wouldn’t have to work nearly as hard throughout the school year.
My college years weren’t easy, but I had some help. For one, I clung to my faith. There’s a peace that surpasses all understanding believing that God is in control and has a plan for my life. That’s why in 2019 I launched Christian Fellowship, the largest faith-based organization on campus. I also became the vice president of Water to Thrive and secured the largest donation to aid clean water efforts in Ethiopia.
I also found a mentor in one of my professors, Melanie Thompson. She spoke life into me by believing in me and teaching me to never give up. She emphasized that pressure develops great leaders and that nothing in life that is good is going to come easy.
All of my hard work paid off again in 2019 when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting. I landed a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big four accounting firms, in a sales role. I was promoted from associate to senior associate in just one-and-a-half years, and I get to bring new innovative digital products to market across the US. Outside of work, I’m heavily involved in working with at risk-kids through my local church.
The Power of Community
Through all this turmoil, these four types of relationships sustained me and helped me reach success:
The first was my relationship with myself and my faith. This grounded me in who I was, how I saw life, my purpose, my value system, and why I do what I do every day.
The second was my relationship with my mentor. I found someone who I looked up to and followed in their footsteps. Since I had already struggled so much in life, I thought it would be better to learn my next lessons through wisdom rather than experience.
The third was my relationship with my peers. Everyone needs somebody working with them shoulder-to-shoulder–to lock arms with–who understands what we’re going through. It’s better to have two than one just in case one of us falls.
The fourth was my relationship with someone I was uplifting. I tried to give back what was given to me by my mentors and peers. Everyone needs help, and we can all make an impact beyond our own lives in those we choose to support.
As someone who was once considered an at-risk kid himself, I encourage anyone who feels stuck, cornered, or paralyzed by their circumstances to seek out support from their community. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t give up. Keep fighting.
Raul Bustillos is an account executive at PwC, where he works as an inside sales specialist driving digital financial crime products across the country.
Raul holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting from Texas Lutheran University. Raul currently resides in Katy, Texas because of his local church!