Olivia Calderon directs the City of Los Angeles Financial Empowerment Initiative. Before participating in a panel on young Californians and retirement, she talked Thanksgiving, enchiladas, hummingbirds, and her first summer job (flipping burgers at a place called Casa Burger) in the Zócalo green room.
Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty?
Yes. Enchiladas. I have a special recipe. I can’t share my ingredients, but let me just say—they are phenomenal. And for Thanksgiving I make the dessert—it’s a New York-style cheesecake, and my crust is pretty delicious.
What's the most useful phrase you've ever learned in Arabic?
“Kaif halik habibi”: “What’s up my love?” it always seems to put a smile on everyone’s faces.
What professor or teacher changed your life, if any?
Wow, there were so many at different stages of my life. My fourth grade teacher Ms. Athens at Bushnell Elementary in Highland Park—she was incredibly compassionate and authentic, and you could tell she really cared about us, as much as she loved teaching. In high school I had a career counselor my senior year who was my guardian angel and saved my life. She helped put me on a path to college, and I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.
What’s your least favorite thing about the Internet?
How addictive it is! Goodness, I just could spend days surfing the Internet.
What does it take to get you out on a dance floor?
Nothing. [Laughs.] It doesn’t matter. If music is playing, I’m going to be dancing.
Who or what would your mascot be?
A hummingbird. It’s so fast, and petite, and colorful, and just has positive vibes, positive energy. And it’s so quiet you never see it coming.
What’s your greatest extravagance?
My goodness gracious. I’d have to say manicure-pedicures.
What’s your favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving. It’s just because I love cooking, my family loves cooking, it’s a time for everyone to come together and just be grateful we’re together and give thanks. There are no expectations—just come. And my parents just open the house up to anyone and everyone. We have a great tradition where we hold hands, and everyone has to say one thing they’re thankful for. It’s a good time to break news to my parents, and everyone’s in such high spirits that they’ll be happy.
What do you consider beautiful?
Authenticity. I think beauty comes in lots of different shapes and sizes, and I think just being real is beautiful. It exudes its natural confidence. It’s really attractive and charming.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
[Laughs.] Flipping burgers at Casa Burger. I was going to start high school, and I wanted to make some money over the summer to get cool clothes and fit in, and I got a job at Casa Burger in Arvin, California, this tiny little migrant town—like 99 percent Mexican migrant workers. I was flipping halal burgers because the owners were Lebanese. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing.