Growing up in a tough neighborhood and experiencing a disconnect between personal experiences and public school education, Diego pursued an alternative educational track post-high school that took him from attending a community college in southern California to living in a remote mountain village in Mexico, from studying neuroplasticity with Moshe Feldenkrais in Amherst, MA, to founding a software start-up company committed to impacting the social good in Berkeley, CA. Read on to learn moreabout Diego's educational trajectory and the motivations for the work he pursues now.
Diego grew up in Pomona, CA, a marginalized community and a suburb of Los Angeles. Living in Pomona, Diego witnessed his fair share of violence. The Bloods and the Crips vied for territory in the neighborhoods and the high school closed yearly due to student rioting. Several of Diego’s friends on the football team kept guns in their lockers, hoping to protect themselves on their commute to and from school. His mother died from bone cancer at the end of 9th grade and he had to find employment. Diego worked as a bus boy and was promoted to dishwasher when he was 15. He worked throughout his high school years.
As is true for many students from tough neighborhoods, high school became irrelevant to Diego. By the time he graduated, Diego was academically under-prepared for college-level reading and writing. He moved to Pasadena to live with his father and enrolled at Pasadena City College (PCC), the local community college. On visits back to Pomona, he would learn that other classmates from high school had passed away. Diego continued to work while studying at PCC. He began his first job in the computer industry in 1976 working at the Bank of AmeriCard Center in Pasadena. He later received a promotion to Bank of America’s Data Processing Center in Downtown Los Angeles, working the graveyard shift as a Spooling Operator carrying boxes of papers to feed the high-speed printers.
In 1977, Diego enrolled at World College West (WCW), a small liberal arts school in northern California (closed in 1992). The college’s academic program was designed by Elden Jacobson, a social innovation philosophy proponent and the co-director, along with Parker Palmer, of the Carnegie Study of Higher Education in the early 1970’s. During his first year at WCW, Diego became interested in the United Nation’s First Special Session on Disarmament. In the spring semester he developed a summer internship at the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker humanitarian aid organization, where he focused on community organizing locally and aided in the AFSC Stop Banking on Apartheid program.
Through WCW’s “World Study” program, Diego spent two quarters abroad in Michoacan, Mexico in 1979. For the first two months of his study, Diego lived in Moralia and studied with the futurist, Robert Bernard, a professor at the University of Michoacan - Moralia. Visiting local villages outside of Mexico City, Diego noticed the disparity between life in the city and life on its edges. He began to study economic development and the use of appropriate technology.
“Little did I know that [the papers I was reading] would help me to understand the dichotomy between the residential district of Mexico City and the surrounding lost cities, or the disparity between the developed world and the developing world.” (Development in the Developing World and the Choice of Technology Paper, World College West)
Diego spent the next two months living at 7,000 feet in the small mountain village of San Ángel Zurumucapio. During his stay, Diego documented the tools and technologies being used by the indigenous peoples of the pueblito. He was concerned about the traditional use of technology in development, finding that:
“[The Less Developed Countries (LDC) development] path tends to utilize technology modeled from today’s highly industrialized nations, without adaptation to the given circumstances of the LDC. Conventional development programs in developing countries have tended to perpetuate and accentuate [disparities]” (Development in the Developing World and the Choice of Technology Paper, World College West),
“It seems to me that the aggregate symbols, such as Gross National Product (GNP), per capita income, etc. that are used to measure development seem ill fit for the job. Significant increases in GNP in some developing countries have not necessarily brought in their wake the solutions to unemployment and poverty. We just need to look at Brazil and Mexico, the so called ‘economic miracles’ of the last two decades. There is evidence that macro-growth has been accompanied by higher concentrations of income and greater social inequalities” (The Complexities of Development,World College West).
Upon returning to the US, Diego realized he needed to confront the increasing back spasms he had been experiencing for the last four years due to a sports injury he had sustained in high school. Putting his college studies on hold in 1979, Diego looked for ways to heal. His search led to the Feldenkrais Method, a brain-based method of relieving pain developed by physicist Moshe Feldenkrais. (Read more about the Feldenkrais Method in this Smithsonian Magazine article.) This method focuses on synaptic genesis and neurogenesis and is supported by respected neuroscientists such as Stanford University’s Karl Pribram, then a board member at The Feldenkrais Institute. Diego’s study with Moshe Feldenkrais in his professional training program cured his back problem and the neurophysiological science he learned through this training manifests in his current work on affective learning in the Academy for College Excellence program.
Looking for work opportunities to pay for his four-year training with Moshe in Amherst, MA, Diego attended a meeting of the Computer Scientists for Social Responsibility group at UC Berkeley, where he met a senior computer scientist from Lawrence Berkeley Labs, Fred Gey. Working with Gey and another group member, Diego started Friends Software in 1980 in the nascent micro-computer industry. This would be his first entrepreneurial venture. All three individuals were Quakers and interested in promoting social justice work through the company, holding the goal of providing 10% of profits to nonprofits. This work pushed Diego into the world of business while maintaining an altruistic purpose in line with his passions and beliefs.
Working in the fast-paced micro-computer industry, Diego realized that the most effective social change organizations the world had seen in the past hundred years were corporations. These organizations utilized and funded the study of disciplines that affect change and the scaling of operations. They had perfected marketing techniques and developed the strategic planning tools and ability to predict and impact the future. Though Diego felt his values were diametrically opposed to those of the typical corporation, he recognized from a community organizing perspective that business methodologies would be useful for bringing about significant social change.