Transformation Stories

Juan Marquez: Constructing Confidence


When Juan Marquez talks about his youth, he describes a chronic lack of confidence and, in the same breath, says he was “entitled.” These two qualities would seem to be at odds with each other, but in fact they go hand in hand.

“Because of the upbringing I had—because I was always surrounded by gangs and drugs—I had this big chip on my shoulder,” Juan recalls. He saw successful people and wondered when it would be his turn (that’s where the entitlement comes in). But he wasn’t remotely convinced he had what it would take to turn his life around (the crisis of confidence).

Like many young, frustrated men from L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, Juan ended up in prison. But he never forgot the image of a priest riding his beach cruiser bicycle through the housing projects where Juan grew up. That guy—Fr. Greg Boyle—had believed in him.

Juan came to Fr. Greg’s nonprofit organization, Homeboy Industries, where he worked in the merchandise store selling Homeboy T-shirts and coffee mugs. He gradually built up his sense of self-worth in a community of people who echoed Fr. Greg’s radical philosophy: that no person’s life is worth less than any other person’s.

“I developed my work ethic at Homeboy,” Juan says.

He was always drawn to the construction field, and one day he applied for a job with Skanska, a construction company with international reach. Working for Executive Vice President Mike Aparicio, Juan found another mentor. Aparicio encouraged Juan to go to school and get his general contractor’s license.

This time Juan knew he was capable of doing it if he put in the work. Today he has worked on many public and private construction endeavors, including some of L.A.’s biggest Metro projects: the Gold Line and Expo Line trains and the Sixth Street Bridge. But he is most proud of having hired more than twenty Homeboy alumni and helped facilitate jobs for many more.

“I tell them to work hard, and I get them in the union,” he says. Considering both his fellow ex-gang members and his middle-class neighbors, Juan says, “I used to have an ‘us and them’ mentality. But now I’ve seen both sides.”

He has provided his four daughters with a strong launch pad for life. Three are now in college. When they occasionally start to stray off course, he tells them, “I was raised not knowing any better, but I raised you differently. I raised you better than that.”

Juan knows that hard work only benefits those who are given a chance in the first place. That’s why he can frequently be found hanging around Homeboy headquarters, looking to hire other hungry young workers. His dream is to have a couple of all-homie construction crews, and to give them the experience they need to work for bigger companies. Just like someone did for him.


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Amie Zuniga: How an Accidental Transformation Led to a Life of Purpose

Lami Glenn: “Their generosity is what drives me”

Evan Hess: Father’s Day, every day

Dorene Macias: parenting and paying it forward

Juan Marquez: Constructing Confidence

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