Sales rep carries his upbringing in Boyle Heights and parents’ values with him

From left to right: Christina Castellon, Brianna Garcia and Angel Garcia.

Even when it seemed like there was no way out, Los Angeles native Angel Garcia saw the “light at the end of the tunnel” and believed he was destined to break out of Boyle Heights.

Garcia’s desire to get out developed at a time when the neighborhood was full of gangs. Garcia, 50, grew up in Boyle Heights and decided at 11 years old that he needed to do something his immigrant parents would be proud of. 

“Growing up, we faced many hardships, and it was hard to get out of that East LA cruel environment,” he said. “But I don’t want to focus on the dark side, I want others to know that there is a bright side.”

Garcia refers to that environment as cruel because, at the time, the neighborhood was full of gangs and drugs.

Garcia is the son of Mexican immigrants who moved to the United States when they were teenagers. Some of Garcia’s uncles and cousins were part of gangs, such as White Fence and Jardin, but Garcia did not follow that lifestyle.

Garcia said that his parent’s “supportive and hardworking” nature and family structure deterred him from gang life.

“My mom is the most hard-working person I know; even at 70 years old, she still cleans houses,” he said.

Garcia remembers looking up to Hispanic police officers while growing up because of how much they cared about the community. That’s when he started wanting to become a police officer.

“Back then, when I was six years old, police officers were part of the community; they would play football with the neighborhood,” he said. “That really caught my attention. When do you ever see police officers engaging so much with the community anymore?”

Benjamin Morales, a Boyle Heights teaching artist, met Garcia in high school, and they have been friends ever since.

“Angel knew what he wanted to do at such a young age and that is very impressive,” Morales said. “He has always given back to the community and shared his story for others to learn and grow from it.”

Garcia became a police officer in his early 20s, and he was an officer for almost 20 years until he decided to change his career.

Garcia said that his mother broke down one day during a conversion because she was worried about him “working the graveyard shift” so often.

Garcia’s change of mind and purpose were also influenced by other factors. “I wanted to find someone to settle down with and start a family,” he said.

Garcia is now a national sales representative for Sunbelt Rentals, an equipment rental business, and lives in Eastvale.

“This was a safer and more lucrative job, and being a salesman was just natural to me since I was a little kid,” he said. “I am now a homeowner, and I live with my girlfriend Christina and our six-year-old daughter Brianna.”

When Garcia was a kid, he won a competition for Disneyland tickets at his school by selling 30 boxes of chocolate bars in 30 days.

Tom Gordon, a Norwalk teacher and one of Garcia’s high school friends, remembers Garcia as the “small guy playing a big guy position” when he was playing football during high school. Gordon thinks that Garcia has always been an overachiever and someone focused on serving and helping others.

“A lot of people see what you currently have but don’t see your journey and all the work you put in to get there,” Garcia said. “I don’t live in that neighborhood anymore, but I still go back and try to give back to the community as much as I can.”

Garcia has volunteered at high schools to speak to kids that might be going through the same struggles. He now engages with the community through donations to institutions such as St. Paul High School, which he graduated from.

“I remember that when you are in an environment like that, it might seem easier to take the ‘easy’ way out and join a gang,” he said. “But I try to show young kids that there are other ways out.”

Something that really stuck with Garcia during his childhood is when his dad told him, ‘Whatever you decide to do, give it your all.’

“I always wanted to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem,” he said. “Sometimes even arresting someone could be helping them to stay alive and change their life.”

If Garcia could go back in time, he would speak more freely about the issues in the neighborhood, he would volunteer more and talk to more kids in high school.

“I want kids to know that even if they might not be the biggest or the smartest, nobody could outwork them,” he said. “Your truthfulness, your integrity and your work ethic are what really matters.”

Morales agrees with Garcia on making an impact in the community, and he has in ways such as teaching kids what it means to serve the community through being involved in education and mentoring youth into various career paths and creative outlets.

“I am involved in the neighborhood because my wife and I are educators locally, and my kids attend LAUSD schools,” Morales said. “So we believe in change from within, and that is why we are here living that life.”

Garcia wants to teach kids not to give up but to be persistent even when many doors close on them.

“Right now, I’m 50 years old, and I’m telling you this story, but I should have done this sooner,” Garcia said. “If I could touch even one life out there and just let them know that everything is possible in life with hard work and by surrounding yourself with good people, then my work was worth something.

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections, and story tips to [email protected].