Words by Olivia Singer/ Photo by Will Nielsen
*Full interview conducted in Spanish, translated by author*
“Are you a safe driver?” we asked. He reached for his seatbelt. Click. “Of course.” Hector Luis Herrera Navarro, who drives for Uber in Queretaro, Mexico, says he sometimes forgets to use his seatbelt because his previous job required quick reaction, not leaving enough time for them.
For 10 years, Hector worked as a personal bodyguard for the family of Sr. Roberto Ruiz Obregón, the principal director of Coca-Cola distribution in Mexico. For the next five years, he worked for María Asunción Aramburuzabala, a Mexican businesswoman, billionaire and wife of a previous United States Ambassador to Mexico.
“It wasn’t easy work,” he says. “It’s a nice job, but it isn’t easy to be alert all the time.”
To complete the training required of a bodyguard, Hector took courses in four different countries: Panamá, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. It took two years in total with one year studying and another year training to prove what he had learned. During his second year training, he attended a camp in Guatemala with The Kaibiles, a special operations force who focus on jungle warfare tactics and counterinsurgency efforts. The training is used by the United States to prepare soldiers as well.
“I cried a lot because it was so hard, they (The Kaibiles) are crazy,” Hector says. He described the men at the training camp tearing the heads off of chickens with their mouths, which they had caught with their hands, to prove their strength.
When Hector finished his training, his cousin who was the President of the Supreme Court of Justice in Queretaro, Mexico wanted him to be his personal bodyguard. Though he was family, Hector refused because “the politics and government are too corrupt in Mexico. There is too much to risk.” Fortunately, he had the opportunity to work for The Ruiz family, where he got his start.
Though he loved his job very much and considers it the best career he has had to date, Hector made a job switch in 2013 when he realized he had missed half of his daughters’ birthdays because he was always working.
Thirteen months ago, Hector’s sister told him about Uber as it was just starting up in Mexico City. After five exams and a few thousand pesos, he was officially an Uber driver. In a country lacking financial stability, Hector says Uber drivers can make more than those with very skillful careers who have gone to school for many years.
When Hector was a child, he dreamed of being an architect. “I like to build not destroy,” he says. He hasn’t lost that dream and still aspires to pursue a job in the field one day. He carries an image of a mansion in his briefcase as motivation.
“I am only 44. I still want to do a lot of things.”
First on his list, he wants to travel and potentially move to the United States. “I am hoping Hillary becomes President so I can do this,” he says. Though his previous experience in the United States consists of only one visit to Houston, he has a great appreciation for the country.
“I like the idea of living in the United States because it is so diverse, there are so many different people, religions and languages. I bet you can learn a lot really fast,” he says. He carries around three keychains of monuments from Washington D.C. that were given to him as a gift, to remind him of his aspirations.
Hector never ceases to remember to open the door for his clients and is dressed in a suit nearly every day of the week. He credits his career as a bodyguard for teaching him to be polite and professional, and how to always make the best decision in the moment. He also tributes his acts of chivalry and values he lives by today from his grandfather. “I want to be an example for my kids like my grandfather was to me.” Hector is now the father of four children.
He ends each day between 1 to 2 am and is up before sunrise the following morning. Although he is still very busy, working as an Uber driver allows him to be much more independent and to never miss his children’s birthdays. He says he looks at his Uber clients as friends, and friendship is one of the things he cherishes most. He finds many ways to tie his two careers together. As a bodyguard he says everything was done in teams. Everyone had each others backs. “There was a lot of trust and decision making.” With Uber, Hector takes the opportunity to build relationships with each of his clients and then, trust.
Soon he will be starting a three-month program, payed for by Uber, where he will take classes to learn English for three hours every Saturday. “If you know English, you can live in almost any part of the world, the language is indispensable,” he says. He is excited to begin learning the language in hopes of opening more opportunities for travel in his future.
Driving to the airport with Hector on my final day in Mexico, a stray dog bolts into the road right in front of his car. With a slight swerve, Hector avoids hitting the dog by inches and smoothly transitions back to normal in his lane. “Nice job,” I say, though my stomach was still on the floor. “Thanks, I learned to react quickly like that as a bodyguard too,” he says.