Fernando Moreno

Mi Familia: Reciprocity and a Return to Roots

What do our ancestors give us? What do we owe to our children? These are questions that Fernando Moreno has been thinking about as of late. In January 2020, just months before the pandemic closed down international borders, Moreno took his first trip ever to visit San Luis Potosí, Mexico—the city his grandmother grew up in. Being in this place, with its poverty but also natural beauty, was a powerful experience that gave him a deeper understanding and appreciation for his grandmother, a woman who has deeply inspired his life.

“You see it on TV,” he says, “but until you see it in real life—the smells, the sounds—it doesn’t have the same effect.”

Before Moreno was born, his grandmother left the broad plains of San Luis Potosí to try to make a better life for her children. She emigrated to California and worked in the Santa Maria Valley, as an agricultural packer. Now, decades later, Moreno is making good on his grandmother’s dreams, as he has graduated from Antioch University Online’s Master of Business Administration program. Today, Moreno is working hard and making strides both in the world of business and within his family.

Finding a Path in the World

Before he got his MBA, Moreno attended Antioch University Santa Barbara as an undergraduate, where he eventually completed a BA in Psychology. During these studies, Moreno was a single father. He had to juggle his education, his work life, and being a full-time parent.

After graduating from Antioch with his BA, Moreno had to find his professional path. He found work as a caregiver, finding clients through two large agencies. Over time he grew to love this work and the meaningful connections he developed with his clients. When he switched to private caregiving, this gave him another opportunity to cultivate deep relationships with his clients.

Still, he felt a pull in another direction. Eventually, he realized psychology wasn’t his only passion. He asked himself, “Is this something I really want to do? How can I help people?” Eventually, he decided to return to Antioch for a graduate degree in business.

Studying and Growing Through Life’s Complexities

By the time Moreno came back to Antioch for his MBA, he had married his wife, and they now had two more kids between them. (They currently are expecting another child, their fourth.) Not being a single dad simplified life in many ways, but during his studies his wife, who is in the military, deployed in Kuwait for ten months. It was hard just to find the time to balance all of his responsibilities.

A family portrait with, from left, a boy, maybe ten, arms crossed, a smiling man holding a perhaps four-year-old boy, and a woman in army combat fatigues holding a perhaps six-year-old girl in a pink tutu.

He kept asking himself, “Is this worth it?… working evenings, not spending time with my kids?” But the very things making his life complex—his kids—were also the reasons he was doing the degree in the first place. As he explains, “I would look at them and say okay you need to finish this because of them: to give them a better future”.

Luckily he had a community to help him. Moreno’s mother-in-law, Marion Horman, would come up from Texas for one week out of every month to help with the kids. She was a tremendous help, watching her grandchildren, offering words of support and advice, and making Moreno and his children’s lives better in a hundred other ways. She inspired him as he was determined to create a future for himself and his children.

Throughout his MBA studies, Antioch helped him learn how to have confidence and hone his public speaking and critical thinking skills. These, as Moreno says, are “essential in business.” Roleplaying classes also helped him prepare for the next chapter in his career.

Staying Busy and Building Skills

“The day starts the night before,” is how Moreno describes his current work life. He works as an executive assistant to a meditation guru. (Because of the discretion his job requires, Moreno doesn’t publicize his employer’s name.) His days are full of executive duties such as communicating with the finance and marketing departments on his boss’s behalf.

There are 50 people on his team, and he deals with the finance and marketing people as well as handling more direct personal tasks for his boss. He also is in charge of more personal tasks, such as booking flights and helping him prepare for conferences around the world. As he explains it, “I take on more of an executive role.”

Despite working for a prominent figure, Moreno remains humble. “I pinch myself every day,” he says, because of the opportunity to meet and work with such interesting people. The retreat is visited by many prominent and interesting people from around the world. These people might at first seem unapproachable, yet when they are all talking at the end of the day, explains Moreno, it is “just a conversation.”

In addition to being part of a large team, Moreno still spends his weekends working as a caregiver. His only clients are an older couple who both have dementia. He’s worked with them for seven years, and he can see what a difference these weekends make. He often takes them out for drives along the small, hilly streets of Montecito. Sometimes, he says, fresh air and coffee can help make their days a little better and their memory a little shaper.

One thing unites Moreno’s two very different jobs: the intentionality and care he puts into every relationship he builds.

Exploring His Roots

Thinking about his future has led Moreno to also think about his past and delve into his family’s roots. This urge led to his pre-pandemic trip to San Luis Potosí, the land of his mother’s mother. “I was humbled at the challenges my grandmother faced growing up,” he says. He realized in a deeper way than before that she had lived in “an adobe home with no electricity or running water, living off the land, and [with a severe] lack of educational opportunities.”

Some crumbling adobe walls, with cactus growing out front.
A photo that Moreno took on his trip to Mexico.

The trip inspired him to redouble his efforts at building a great life for himself and for his children. “A renewed desire burned within me,” he says, “to make my grandmother’s suffering count.” He feels this deeply. As he says, “I have to make something of myself because, my mom and grandmother, they went through a lot for me to have a better future.”

Moreno’s grandmother passed away far too young, at the age of 42. The last time he saw her, he was six years old and she was in a wheelchair.

Moreno remembers how his mother would often tell him, “Moreno. Stay in school.” She admired how he would work picking strawberries, making extra money to help the family, but she didn’t want him to have to work so physically hard as she and her mother had.

“The same work ethic you have here,” she told him, “I want you to apply that and work with your mind instead of your body.”

A view of a setting sun from a hillside in Mexico.
Another photo Moreno took during his trip to Mexico.

She took her own advice, too—setting a strong example for her son. She went to nursing school at Santa Barbara City College, where she eventually completed her degree, became a Registered Nurse, and started a new career.

Exploring memories of his mother, his grandmother, and the places that they came from has been deeply inspirational to Moreno. This memory work has played a big role in getting him to where he is today.

“The most influential people—and the reason I was able to finish school—are the women that are in my life,” he says. “My grandmother, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my wife.”

Today, Moreno is on a powerful trajectory and is providing a great role model to his own children. But he never forgets where he came from and who has supported him along the way. “Those four women,” he says, “are the cornerstone of the platform of my life I now stand on.”