Winter 2020

‘The World Ain’t Sunshine and Rainbows’

Nathan Levi Esquerra (Chemehuevi) will be the liaison between the university and tribal nations in Arizona and nationwide. He is the first senior vice president for Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement. 

“This position allows me to engage with tribes and make sure their voices are heard,” says Esquerra, whose life’s work includes leading Native American advancement and economic development in Arizona.

What do you love about the state of Arizona?
I was born and raised here and grew up in Parker — home of the Colorado River Indian Tribes. I love the canals and smelling the alfalfa fields. There’s nothing like it in the world, at least for me. It’s home.  

How did you find your purpose?
I was in broadcast communications as an undergrad at Brigham Young and wanted to be a sports broadcaster. I was even a good weatherman. But I still remember the moment it hit me. I said to myself, ‘You owe it to your culture to make their lives better.’ Whenever I have self-doubt, I return to that moment. I say, ‘Hey, this is my calling and my opportunity to give back.’ 

What’s your view on leadership?
I expect to be held accountable. I will do everything I can and may fall down, too. I lead by example. If it is good enough for other people, then it should be good enough for me.  

What are your small touches to connect?
I write my mom, wife and three daughters a letter each week and send it snail mail. It’s physical and tangible and life through my eyes. If my mom doesn’t get a letter, she calls me up. 

What do you geek out about?
When I see people reach their true potential. If you have a passion for something, I want to help you be successful. My daughter played the piano, clarinet, guitar. I remember that little girl playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ at her first concert. Now she makes her own music. She took a small talent of learning the piano and blossomed. She may never be a music star, but to me, that’s being successful, that’s good stuff. 

What is your personal motto or mantra?
There’s a saying in my tribe: Have skin like a turtle in a hard shell, and when attacks come, they will bounce off. You can keep going forward like a tortoise, slow and steady, withstanding attacks. 

How do you get back on track on a bad day?
My wife gives me a hug, and I might put in a Rocky movie to get fired up. I’m a huge Rocky fan, and all my kids quote Rocky: ‘Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life, but it ain’t how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.’