Marina Gonzales, J.D.
Rising to the Top By Advocating for Others
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by David Teran
While much of the world has been on pause waiting out COVID-19, Marina Gonzales hasn’t missed a beat, stepping into a new role as the president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SAHCC) and getting married in the midst of it all. “There just wasn’t enough going on in 2020, I needed a new job and a wedding in the middle of a pandemic,” she laughs.
An outdoor wedding location – chosen before COVID – allowed Gonzales and her husband, Gerald Lee, to host an intimate, COVID-safe wedding. And she’s laser-focused on helping SAHCC members weather the pandemic as well.
“There’s always an opportunity where there are challenges. That’s why I wanted to come over. I saw the need. Our members need us now more than ever. I’m challenge-driven. I can’t seem to get away from wanting to jump right into it and try to win it. I like seeing a big challenge and finding a way to make it better.
“It’s personal for me. My dad’s a small business owner. I grew up in a Tex-Mex restaurant family. I saw how hard he worked, and I know the inside of running a small business. I see so many other families like that in San Antonio.”
Gonzales joined SAHCC from Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA), providing trained court-appointed advocates to foster children recovering from abuse and neglect. She sees the roles as closely related. “Advocacy is the core value, and that, of course, is what we do. I see SAHCC as another way to advocate for San Antonio. It’s just doing it in a different way. Small businesses really make up San Antonio. We are going to keep people employed. We’re going to keep some of those social issues from becoming bigger issues that turn into a foster care situation.”
Tackling challenges has always motivated Gonzales. “I love to problem-solve. Even as a kid, I loved puzzles, and the game Clue was my favorite. If you ask my dad, he’ll tell you I was always solving or figuring something out. It’s a habit that has continued into adulthood, that investigation and how do we make it better and how can we be more efficient and more thoughtful. That constant drive to continue to evolve and learn.
“I think it’s also a habit that influenced where I’m at right now. If you are a lifelong learner, you are open to new opportunities. Running a chamber is not something I would have thought of when I went to law school, but it’s what evolved.”
Gonzales holds a J.D. from the University of Illinois-Chicago John Marshall Law School and a B.A. from St. Mary’s University, and believes her career path fits her personal philosophy. “Always keep an open mind for new opportunities,” she explains.
And she believes in asking for help. “Wherever you’re at in your career, find your mentors, find your friends, your people. That’s how I say it. Find your people, find your tribe, whatever that means to you. They don’t have to be limited to women. I started a career thinking that I needed to find these female role models, and I’ve found some amazing ones. But don’t forget about the guys too, because they have some good career advice as well.”
“My mentor tells me always help each other. And you’re never too young to mentor someone. Pass it on. Do what you can. You’re never too young or old to mentor.”
Following that lead, Gonzales herself actively mentors other women, openly asking young women she meets how she can help them. “I don’t mind putting myself out there and asking how I can help. Looking back, I would have benefited from advice, but I didn’t proactively seek that out. I always felt it was awkward to ask people to mentor me. So now I try to look for those opportunities and ask, ‘How can I help you? Can I mentor you?’ I try to just open that door because we need that next generation of women.”
A recipient of the 2020 San Antonio Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award and the 2019 San Antonio Business Journal’s Women’s Leadership Award, Gonzales notes, “None of us have it all figured out. I think it’s about what we’ve learned from our experiences and passing on that knowledge, so hopefully, somebody doesn’t have to learn the hard way. I think that our role, each generation, is to make it more accessible and have more open doors for women as we go.”