joel vazquez

Asian Pacific American on the Rise: Meet Joel Vazquez

Leadership like many other qualities means different things to different people. With that in mind, I set out to find the next generation of leaders in the APA community, and get their thoughts on leadership. This is the first in a series of posts on rising APA leaders by Nyana Quashie.

One does not become a leader in a bubble, and that is especially true for Joel Vazquez. Growing up in Prince George’s County, Maryland had a huge influence on him, and helped to shape his views. Prince George’s is a diverse county with many African Americans and immigrants from all around the world. For Joel, experiencing that diversity helped him to work with people of many backgrounds, and to appreciate the diverse views that they bring to the table. Growing up as one of the few Filipinos in his area was both a challenge and a blessing for him. He often found that he had to prove himself to others and battled stereotypes placed upon him. But he drew on his difference as a source of strength and gained a deeper appreciation of his culture. In turn, he chose to share his culture with those around him, often opening up a new world to them. At the same time he was also able to recognize differences in other communities of color, and appreciate the lessons that he was able to learn from them as well.

That sense of learning from others greatly helped to inform his definition of leadership. To Joel leadership is about collaboration and teamwork. A good leader is able to understand the needs of followers and should know how to relate to them. At other times it means serving as a source of guidance and empowerment. While Joel does give direction and guidance to his followers, he also allows them to learn and grow, so that they too can leave their mark on the world. These qualities are exemplified in many of his roles at the University of Maryland.

As Community Service Chair of the Filipino Cultural Association (FCA), he does his best to serve as a mentor and encourage confidence in many of FCA’s members. Sometimes getting them to be engaged in the community service aspect of the organization can be tough. But Joel manages because he makes sure to listen to the key issues that they care about, and create service opportunities based on their interests. That way members are invested in giving back to their communities. On the flip side, he works closely with the communities that FCA serves. In his goal to affect responsible social change, he often forms connections with partner organizations in those communities so that he can get input on how FCA can best address their needs. By forging connections with outside organizations for FCA, Joel was able to break out of his shell and improve the way he communicated with others. Networking was not his forte and like many others, he used to struggle with putting himself out there. However, by being a part of FCA he was able to grow, became a better communicator, and gained a greater sense of leadership.

So what advice does Joel have for other aspiring leaders? “Always innovate and improve, never settle for the status quo, and always listen to others.” It is important to realize that not everything you do will be a success, or will go your way. But just as important is learning from your failures and reflecting on weaknesses. It is also important to be open to other perspectives and take constructive criticism. Doing those things allow you to grow as a person, and will get you through the toughest of times. Joel became the leader he is today because he embraced challenges and always sought out opportunities to grow.


Joel Vazquez is a proud Filipino from Bowie, Maryland. He’s a junior American Studies and Government and Politics double major, with minors in Public Leadership and Spanish. During his sophomore year at the University of Maryland, he participated in the Rawlings Undergraduate Leadership Fellows Program. Currently he serves as the Community Service Chair of the Filipino Cultural Association, is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Arts and Humanities, and works as a Peer Career Educator at his University’s Career Center. He is also a Teaching Assistant for an undergraduate philanthropy seminar in which students will give away $10,000 to a nonprofit of their choice. Joel’s passion is helping people. In the future he hopes to continue being an advocate, and wants to do research on many of the issues that affect marginalized communities.

By Nyana Quashie, University of Maryland Senior

 Nyana is a senior Geography major at the University of Maryland, with minors in Global Poverty, and Spanish. She is committed to engaging communities and creating social change both in the U.S. and abroad. In 2013, she consulted with local businesses in Nicaragua as an intern with the Social Entrepreneur Corps. A Peer Career Educator by day, she advises her peers on the job and internship process at her University’s Career Center. In her free time she works to end poverty around the world as a REAL Change Fellow with the grassroots advocacy organization RESULTS.