Born to Guatemalan immigrants in New Jersey, Lester Estrada Lopez grew up speaking only Spanish until he went to school. His parents always taught him to, “be a hard worker and to not expect anything to be given to you—that has always struck true to me. No matter what age I was, no matter whether I was selling food, CDs— that working mentality has always been part of me.”
That same hard-working mentality drove Lester to overcome several hurdles to pursue a career as an aviation maintenance technician and eventually become the maintenance base manager in Newark. “Ever since high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I did know one thing- I wanted to be active and work with my hands,” he shared.
After seeing a plane, wondering how it flew and wishing he could work on it, Lester pursued his license, and he remembers the tough work it took to get where he is today: “It really was a lot of hard work. I took every moment I had to study. I shut my windows and door, I’d shut out my friends, and I’d really focus on trying to get my license.”
After graduation in 2012, he was met with more challenge. “It was a struggle after I completed school,” Lester remembers. “There was no work at the time. I would apply to jobs from Montana to Nebraska to California— I was on the verge of quitting.”
It took Lester almost a year and a half to find his opportunity, right here at Republic. “(Republic) gave me the interview and they accepted me. I’ve been loyal because they gave me the opportunity to work when no one else would. I’ve felt I owed them years of my career, and I’m ecstatic with where I’m at.”
When asked what influence his culture and heritage has had on his career, Lester credits his upbringing for the grit to not give up. “It goes back to just being a hard worker. Once I set a goal, I don’t stop until I achieve it. Being like that and having those roots in me from the way I was brought up gave me a drive to achieve as much as I can.”
“I think it’s important to acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month. There’s a lot of stigma around the Hispanic cultures and how they’re only meant to be working in certain places, when they can do better. In Newark, many of us are Hispanic here. At quarterly management meetings, I’m a minority. It’s important for us to promote that there are opportunities beyond a flight attendant, maintenance technician or pilot. They have management options as well.” He continues, “I’m only 28 years old, and I’m a manager of our Newark Maintenance Operations. Just because you come from a different background doesn’t mean you can’t achieve more.”
Lester is able to take action on his passion for sharing his story and personal experiences to inspire others—especially youth— to explore our industry’s opportunities is by returning to his aviation school to talk to students about the opportunities available to them.
“The industry is going to need maintenance technicians, and I feel a huge urgency to get people to this field—once you’re in it, it’s just awesome. I try to tell young people in my community what I do. I am always preaching about it, trying to encourage them to get into this field. Since I’ve been with Republic, I’ve certainly enjoyed the benefits of the industry, especially traveling and I tell them— you can do this, too,” Lester adds.