Written By Makeet Finch
Students and staff assembled at the Magner Career Center in James Hall on Feb 25. to learn the story of Brooklyn College graduate Daniel Menendez. An undocumented immigrant, Menendez has often led a challenging life but has worked his way up the workforce and continued to strive against all odds.
A first generation immigrant and a native of Honduras, Menendez came to the U.S at the age of 18 to learn English. He traveled with a sheet of paper listing points to help him communicate in English in case he got lost. “I think back and reflect, why did I even come here? It’s just me, I didn’t have my mom, I didn’t have my siblings, I didn’t have friends,” said Menendez, who came with a tourist Visa and stayed with a neighbor.
Menendez traveled through a different town in Honduras to meet with his neighbor’s uncle’s girlfriend who was in Honduras at the time but was a U.S citizen. He traveled to America in her care so that at customs, she could serve as a representative of someone he knew in America.
“It was a very uncertain time and everything was a learning experience,” he said.
“We were living in a one bedroom apartment, it was two other guys and me in the same bedroom and a bunkbed and a queen size bed and a big bathroom and we shared it and it was a different experience. There was a lot of uncertainty because I didn’t know English,” said Menendez.
He worked various jobs to support himself and pay for his education, which cost more as an international student. He worked at a junkyard, as a waiter and several construction jobs.
Menendez originally wanted to pursue film, but didn’t have the resources or the luxury to choose a major he wanted to study. “First I needed to survive, I needed to get a job where I could potentially be in higher demand that I could go into so I could at least get a job. I’m very close to my mom and my mom said, ‘No way you’re going to be an actor, no way you’re going to be a director of film. If you want to, fine, but go finish your bachelor, go finish your Master’s degree and then when you do that and you have a job, if you want to go back and do it over again, go ahead.’ Now I got the okay,” he said, as laughter filled the room.
Menendez first attended BMCC before transferring to Brooklyn College where he studied business management and finance.
While working as a waiter his senior year at BC, Menendez met with Natalia Guarin-Klein, Director of the Magner Career Center, at a workshop for resume building he called “eye opening.” She helped simplify the process, giving him the one-on-one attention he required, answering his questions, guiding and coaching him for different types of interviews outside of his work experience. He eventually landed an internship at UBS Wealth Management.
After graduating he went on to be a replenishment team leader in Target, managing sixteen employees. This job gave him the management experience he’d need to begin his banking career at Citibank in 2009.
“I was so grateful I got the job that every time I would go, I would give it my best even though I was in a graduate development program to become a manager,” he said, “I was still picking up garbage from the floor or I would clean the ATM screens every day…I was just trying my best to do the best I could with the little I knew,” said Menendez.
Menendez’s biggest challenge was learning to speak English and being receptive when clients would speak fast, or when placed on conference calls feeling shy and aware of his accent.
“It was intimidating at times in terms of leading others, I think it was also good that I went through the construction and restaurant work,” he said. “For 2-3 months we called it a day job, the people who stand on the streets to be picked up to do some construction work, if its demolition or whatever it is you just go, so I had that experience going into this role, I was just grateful every day.”
After multiple promotions and transitions, which brought him to Maryland, Menendez eventually returned to New York for a stint at HSBC in downtown Manhattan for two and a half years, where he helped develop the bank’s retail presence. Afterwards, he made the leap to Bank of America as an Enterprise Retail Sales Manager where he now leads the Home Lending Team for Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Chinatown.
As Menendez reflected on his time as a BC student, he wished he had been involved in a group on campus, touching on the importance of making connections with peers.
Today, Menendez says he has two mentors. One of these, he was a doorman for, the man eventually took a liking to him due to his educated questions and interest in his work. His second mentor is his current boss at Bank of America who was the head of home equity for Chase Bank country-wide.
Menendez is a resident in Brooklyn, East Flatbush where he resides with his wife of 14 years and his two children, which he says is his proudest achievement. “I’m human just as you guys are. I do ok in terms of what I’m doing now…I have a lot of goals as well and I face the same challenges you all may face day to day. I had the same uncertainties when I was a student, I still have some of those uncertainties now,” said Menendez.
“Every time you walk out these doors you will have the opportunity to be an influencer in your society, in your community, and you will do well representing Brooklyn College,” said Menendez.