Moe Vela says he wears many hats — among them former White House official, Hispanic leader, author of “Little Secret Big Dreams,” motivational speaker, business leader and lawyer. According to his book, Vela became the first Hispanic American and first gay American to serve two senior executive roles in the White House. He recently visited Pharmore Drugs in Skokie.
Q: What were some of your roles at the White House?
A; I served during the Clinton administration as chief financial officer and senior adviser on Latino affairs in the office of Vice President Al Gore, and later during the Obama administration as director of administration for Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the southern tip of Texas in a little town called Harlingen on the Mexican border.
Q: What was growing up in your hometown like?
A: I grew up Latino Catholic, son of a pioneer family. Going to Mass, my priest was telling me I couldn’t be who I knew I was. I knew I had a little secret since I was 4 years old. I knew I was gay.
Q: What is your book about?
A: My book is not about being gay. My book is about believing in yourself and persevering and understanding that every one of us, regardless of who we love, regardless of who we are, regardless of our religion, our culture, our heritage, that every one of us is worthy of our place at the table of life. That is the crux of the book.
Q: How did you get to Washington and play such an instrumental role?
A: I was working for a private corporation in Austin, Texas and one of my colleagues in passing said a friend is looking for talented people to go to Washington and work with her in the Clinton administration.
Q: What was your work with the Clinton administration?
A: I started at the Department of Agriculture of all places. Three years into the administration, we’re sitting in a bar and a dear friend of mine said in passing Al Gore’s office is looking for some help for six months. ‘We’re looking for a lawyer type,’ the friend said. I said, ‘I’m a lawyer type.’
Q: How did you serve the vice president?
A: I was asked to audit all the files and folders because (the office) was behind in some payments. It was 1995 but they knew (Gore) was going to run even then so they knew they couldn’t owe money.
Q: Where did you move from there?
A: Six months later, when my term was up and I turned in a report, I was called in to meet the vice president because he wanted to thank me. I get goose bumps right now even remembering that. It was such an affirming moment. He said he wasn’t here to just thank me but to ask me to be his next CFO and senior adviser on Latina affairs and LGBT matters.
Q: What is the key to being a good public speaker?
A: Always speak from your heart. If you keep it real, and you’re open, and you’re genuine, and you truly, truly love, I don’t care what anybody tells you, you’ll succeed. There’s two keys — genuine authenticity and humor. If you make somebody laugh, at that moment you actually love each other.