In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we sat down with Oscar Carmona, Director of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources (PRCR) department since January 2020. He reflects on his Texas roots, highlights of his new role, and what being the first Latinx director of Raleigh PRCR means to him.
What are you enjoying most about Raleigh?
I am really enjoying the parks and greenways system here in Raleigh as well as the recreational opportunities that abound in the city and nearby areas. Having access to both the coast and the mountains is a great thing.
What do you miss from home?
Primarily, I miss some of the Mexican and BBQ restaurants that I use to frequent on occasion along with visiting the Texas Hill Country where I enjoyed the numerous wineries, breweries, and historic and natural sites in that area.
What are some of the highlights about your role as Director of Raleigh PRCR?
The main highlight of my role is to lead an organization of parks and recreation professionals. Every team member I have met take their roles seriously and they know that what they do on a daily basis contributes to the quality of life of the Raleigh community. I take it as a great honor to represent all of our dedicated staff and tell the story of what we do.
What are some of the challenges that come along with your role?
The biggest challenge for me has been trying to learn everything I can about the community. This has been a challenge due to COVID-19, which has slowed my progress. Another challenge is balancing the many demands of the community, finding alternative funding sources especially during challenging budget years and being able to keep up with the fast growth of Raleigh. We must keep up with the demand while being equitable.
What were some key experiences that you feel further prepared you to take on the role as director for PRCR?
I have been fortunate to work in the parks and recreation field my entire career. I have worked in recreation programming, natural resource management, park maintenance, project management and more. I have had the opportunity to work in state and local government as well as the private sector. All my experiences mixed with great advice from mentors has allowed me to be ready for new challenges.
As the first person of color and the first Latinx person to be a director of the Raleigh PRCR department, what does holding this position mean for you?
Holding this position means that anything is possible with hard work and determination. Growing up, my parents always taught me about hard work and overcoming adversity. Their words hold true to this day and I appreciate all of the sacrifices they faced in order to allow me to be where I am at today. There is still a lot of work to do to make sure the makeup of our organizations across the country reflect the demographic makeup of the communities they serve.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I want to make sure that I made positive advancements for the department which can include advancing equity, advancing diversity of our workforce and programming, becoming an accredited agency through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA), receiving an NRPA Gold Medal for being one of the best agencies in the country and helping to make the Raleigh parks system one that the whole community can be proud of.
What important advice have you received from a member in your family or close friend that still resonates with you today?
I always remember advice from my parents. They were always there to motivate me and strived for me to have a more successful life than they had. They always encouraged me to work hard and not let any problems set me back – they told me to keep looking forward no matter what.
If you had any career advice that you could give to Latinx students, what would it be?
I would say that there are many opportunities available in the parks and recreation field. If you are still undecided on what to do for a career, look into opportunities where you can help the community. Parks and Recreation is a field that makes a positive difference in many people’s lives and I encourage them to explore what opportunities are available. I also want to encourage them to be proud of their heritage, do not forget where you came from and keep speaking Spanish or learn. You may not think it is needed, but it will help you connect and make you a more valuable asset.
Why is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month important to you?
The United States is made up of immigrants from many different backgrounds. Every culture represented in the USA has contributed in one way or another to make the country what it is today. It is extremely important that we celebrate each other and our respective backgrounds. I find it important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month so that the country recognizes many of the accomplishments brought forth by Hispanics. Every time we open ourselves to learn about another culture, we are surprised to learn new things.
What can the City of Raleigh do to better support the Latinx community?
I think the main thing we need to do is to make sure we are reaching out to the community and find out if we are providing the appropriate programs and opportunities for them. We need to find out if we need to develop target marketing in Spanish, offer programs that cater to the community and try to get more members of the community engaged with our department, whether through volunteer opportunities, job opportunities or through our various boards and commissions. I think there are many opportunities for us to be able to improve how we reach out to the community.