Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Up the Ranks.(Final)

Byline: Olivier Uyttebrouck Journal Staff Writer

UNM's president, a son of immigrants, worked his way up from East L.A. to the Pentagon

LONG BEACH, CALIF. -- Louis Caldera's life is a classic story of a first-generation American.

He rose from hamburger flipper at Bob's Big Boy to secretary of the Army.

Other stops along the way: West Point, Harvard, a prestigious West Coast law firm, three terms as a California Assemblyman, and today vice chancellor of the CalState system. Next stop, president of the University of New Mexico.

By the time Caldera was 16, his father had left home and he stepped up as head of the family.

"Louis was very protective of all of us," said Lori LaFavre, eldest of the five siblings and Louis' senior by a year. "Louis just became older than anybody."

Caldera's parents, Benjamin and Soledad Caldera, emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, to El Paso with 1-year-old Lori in 1956. Louis and a younger brother and sister were born in El Paso. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1960, where the youngest son was born.

Benjamin Caldera exerted a strong influence on his children's lives until Louis Caldera reached his early teens, LaFavre said. She and her mother spoke with the Journal recently at LaFavre's home in Orange County, Calif.

The Calderas' father demanded that his children learn English and make good grades.

"That was the rule," LaFavre said. "We had to do well in school or my dad would be real angry."

Benjamin Caldera also made sacrifices to move his family out of a tough neighborhood in East Los Angeles to suburban Whittier, requiring him to commute for hours to his job at a cardboard box factory.

For the Caldera children, Whittier was an oasis, said Bob Caldera, Louis Caldera's youngest brother.

"It was a very fun place to grow up," Bob Caldera said recently as he showed off his hometown.

The Calderas walked to school through quiet residential streets lined with palms and tall jacaranda trees.

They hiked in the green hills overlooking Whittier and often rode the bus for a quarter to Huntington Beach. Louis, always athletic, enjoyed body surfing, his brother said. In all, the Calderas lived in five houses in Whittier.

"My mom worked her bones off to keep us in these neighborhoods," Bob Caldera said. …

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