A full-time San Clemente resident since 2018, Anna Escobedo Cabral has experienced a lot in her lifetime, including periods as a staffer for a U.S. senator and as the Treasurer for the United States in addition to her work in the nonprofit sector.
Combine such an illustrious career with her husband, Victor Cabral, who was elected to the San Clemente City Council in 2022 among his own accomplishments, and the Cabrals could certainly lay claim to the title of one of the city’s “First Families” in relation to overall stature.
As the oldest of five children born to an impoverished Mexican-American family, one who saw firsthand the potential depths of destitution in the U.S., Anna Cabral utilized her family’s emphasis on love and faith to aid her journey toward impacting others in a positive manner.
“I guess it just made me feel like I wanted to do good and kind of change the world, open up opportunities for other people,” she said. “I think that’s why I ended up going into government (and) public service.”
Her path toward her eventual career was far from linear, however.
Born in San Bernardino in 1959, Cabral attended different schools as her father sought temporary work. As an adolescent, she picked up work to contribute to the family, and even considered leaving high school at 16, despite being an excellent student.
Her high school algebra teacher, Philip Lamm, intervened, insisting she go to college. He also assisted with the application process, selecting the school and helping her obtain scholarship funds.
While attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, she recognized that she wasn’t so different from other people of color, in poor communities such as hers, who had succumbed to the impacts of drugs, gang activity and a cycle of poverty.
“I realized then that what I really wanted to do was use education, which was a gift somebody gave to me, to make a difference for other people,” said Cabral.
During her time at UCSC, she met and married Victor before dropping out prior to her graduation to eventually raise four kids, a period she attributed to following the pattern of others around her.
Yet, Victor’s belief in the power of education was a driving force that encouraged Cabral to return to school, earn her undergraduate degree, and apply to law schools at places such as Harvard University to further her pursuit of public service.
When the couple first met, Cabral said her future husband was a confident person who came from a similar background and wanted to give back to the Hispanic community.
“He was very funny—he had a great sense of humor—and (was) very intelligent,” she said. “I love that about him. He’s very charismatic, and we just seemed to have a lot in common.”
After studying at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cabral took her family to Boston and then Washington, D.C., to follow her husband’s career. In D.C., to help pay off roughly $100,000 in school debt, she got a job working in the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican out of Utah, further propelling her career.
Cabral spent 10 years working under Hatch before seeking work at a nonprofit that more directly impacted the general public, and eventually she was asked to serve as U.S. Treasurer during the George W. Bush administration—a post she held from 2004 to 2009.
She described her initial time as Treasurer as “challenging and unnerving,” especially as one of the few women in high-ranking federal government positions. She was also the only woman in the upper level of the Treasury Department.
“I had no idea how to be an aide in the United States Senate until I buckled down to learn how to do it,” said Cabral. “When I walked into the Treasury Department, the same was true. I mean, who teaches you how to be Treasurer of the United States?”
Her time in the department was affected by numerous major events, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the housing crisis during the second half of her tenure. Speaking to the latter, Cabral thought the work she embarked on with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in supporting a collapsing financial system and making reforms was rewarding.
“That was one of the things that I remember most,” she said.
Cabral also spent time working on anti-counterfeiting measures, currency design, and the Financial Literacy and Education Commission.
Being in Washington was special, according to Cabral, because she was in the heart of one of the most powerful governments in the world, working alongside people shaping both national and international policy.
“If you think about it, you’re suddenly now walking a bunch of marble halls … and at first you have no clue what you’re doing,” she said, adding: “Then once you figure out how things work, it is incredibly humbling to be able to participate in so many things that have such significance in the world.”
At the same time, Cabral felt disconnected from everyday life in cities and towns across the country. She later decided to work for the InterAmerican Development Bank, an organization that seeks to help vulnerable people in the Caribbean and Latin America.
While simultaneously raising a family and being at the peak of their professional careers, the Cabrals could not have been successful without each other’s presence and willingness to sacrifice for the other, she said.
Describing that time as a “constant struggle,” Cabral added that the couple and the family overall always acted as a team.
“We always worked together to keep our family first in terms of our priorities, but that often meant we had to divide and conquer depending on what was happening in our professional lives as well,” she said. “Everyone in the family pulled their own weight to ensure the family’s collective and our individual needs were met. (The) kids had chores and were expected to study and do well in school and in their after-school sports.”
Following Cabral’s time as Treasurer, as the couple looked to retire around 2011, they knew they wanted to return to California. Their eyes were initially on San Diego, but after determining it was too big a city for them, they methodically visited cities between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Cabral said that when they visited San Clemente, they immediately knew it was the place for them.
“It’s the right size, it has the right feel, (and) the people are wonderful,” she said of their thoughts at the time. “We immediately said, ‘OK, let’s buy a home here. Let’s buy it now. Then, when we’re ready to move here full-time, this will be a full-time home.’ So, that’s how we did it.”
Cabral has served on numerous boards since retiring, all related to varying subjects that matter to her, such as education and microfinance lending. But as she has transitioned into a new phase of her life—which she described as the last third of her life—she mentioned that she frequently asks herself how she wants to spend her remaining years.
“At this point, you’re trying to figure out how to use all the information, all the opportunities you’ve had, all the things that you’ve learned to give back to communities that you live in and interact with,” Cabral said.
Her experience helps her bring that internal discussion to focus, to where she’s put effort into helping people with financial literacy, and especially families that aren’t accustomed to the basics of accounting and accessing financial institutions.
In the same way, her husband, Victor, decided to spend his time serving the city on the City Council, but Anna added that she thinks there’s much more the two of them can do.
Recalling when she was featured on the cover of the LATINA Style magazine in 2005, Cabral called it “humbling” and a “great opportunity.”
She also said that a benefit of her story being shared was that someone who read it could identify with it and understand that, with effort and determination, they could achieve on a high level.
Additionally, whether it was having her face on a magazine cover or her name on U.S. currency, those occurrences allowed her to represent the many in her family and beyond who sacrificed for her eventual benefit.
“That’s how I looked at those things, both as an opportunity to be a role model, but more importantly,” Cabral said, “as an opportunity to honor those sacrifices that were made, that were so much greater than anything I ever had to experience.”