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"It is clear to me that the changing face of America is best illustrated by the Latino community. I think we are going to be transformational for this nation. However it’s up to us to change the narrative that has, for too long, described our community. And to make our interests known. As a community, we have not been able to articulate our needs.”
- Javier Palomarez of the US Hispanic Business Council
This quote is an excerpt from a long interview that I did with Javier. He was trapped in his car in a rainstorm in a national park in Texas. When I read the transcript over again, I got inspired by the number of ideas happening within this quote.
- Who is the face of America?
- How are Latina/os transformational for this country?
- What is the current Latina/o narrative?
- What are the Latina/o interests?
- How does the Latina/o community articulate its needs?
After my interview with Javier, I dedicated time to interviewing random leaders in the community on these five questions. As a lede, I try to tell people my version of the backstory on Javier and his work with the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce over a ten-year run. Javier, like Cid Wilson and a few others, were models for me of successful executives that people in power turned towards when they needed to know about the consensus of Latina/os in the United States.
I filter my story of Javier and Cid with the stories I have been told by Professor David Ayón about folks like Edward Roybal and Richard Polanco. Finally, I analyze the times that I spent in my youth personally listening to Henry Cisneros, Gloria Molina, María Elena Durazo and perhaps the one that was most impactful to me, Nativo López. When he was alive and we were together, Nativo showed me this incredible photograph of him at a May Day parade in downtown Los Angeles with 500,000 Latina/os following him down the street.
Gina Rodríguez; América Ferrera; Eva Longoria; Zoe Saldaña; Rosario Dawson; [Getty Images]
"The Latina/o empowerment project, especially in politics, is a long story of efforts at inclusion, which sometimes reverts to resistance. The politics of inclusion sometimes has to shift to a politics of resistance. We started at less than zero and by the time Biden became president in 2021 we reached a record four Latina/o cabinet members — three of them from Los Angeles.
For me, California Latina/o political leadership talent is an embarrassment of riches. We are a part of the governing coalition running California and the nation. We have leaders like Xavier Becerra, Alejandro Mayorkas, Isabella Guzman, Anthony Rendon, Patricia Guerrero, Lorena González, Eric Garcetti, Alex Padilla, even Eva Longoria, and we’ve all seen how resistance broke through to a record level of inclusion in the new administration.”
David Ayón, Author of Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America.
When Professor Ayón asked me to count the Latina/o Cabinet members in the Biden administration, I did as I was told. Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education; Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security; and Isabel Guzman, Administrator of the Small Business Administration. There is no denying that this is progress in terms of Latina/o leadership. I also listened to Professor Ayón when he said it was “an embarrassment of riches.” I questioned whether he was being too bullish or if I was being too bearish on a man like Becerra, for example … Let’s be truthful, is Xavier Becerra really representing my interests?
I tend to run this question in my head a lot when I analyze Hollywood through a Latina/o lense too. I try to find examples of when all of the actors pictured on the previous page represented something that I considered important from my immigrant perspective. I chose América Ferrera when she said to Krista Tippett at On Being,“for me, as somebody who has managed to procure a platform, it’s scary to use that platform, because you feel like “I have to have all the answers,” or “How could I possibly speak if I don’t have the Ph.D. in conflict resolution or diplomacy?” But sometimes, all we have to do is shift our attention and shift the light and allow for these people with powerful, strong voices and stories and solutions to speak for themselves. And I’ve found so much power in shifting that light.”
Analia Mendez is a Californian Entrepreneur living on her ranch in Lakeside, California.
"There are beautiful views of the mountains on the right side and El Capitán Preserve. We built the building and installed hardwood floors and a custom crafted desk. The tones are light tan and wine purple. I have a shelf with some pictures. A lamp. A desktop computer with large monitors, a zoom camera and an executive chair. My degrees are framed behind me on the wall. Next to my desk is a purple bean-bag for reading and meditation under a skylight. As my office is sitting up on a hill, you can see the natural surroundings. I have avocado, plum and mango trees all around me. That mango tree over there gave close to sixty delicious mangos this season. The view looking out from my desk is serene.”
When I interviewed Analia over the telephone, I heard her keep referring to images of farmland. The farmland where her Mexican parents worked in her childhood in Modesto and the farmland of her home in San Diego. I wanted to taste her avocados, mangos and plums for myself so I drove down to visit her orchard. Analia’s work in transition counseling with The Honor Foundation is a great example of a healing practice that I am learning myself, called Integration. In this work, we believe that experiences leave energetic impact and that the immigrant experience is full of trauma that causes energy to travel in unbalanced paths.
To clear and clean all of this trauma, a counselor like Analia is needed to align energies and open new paths and directions. In shamanic traditions, this is best done by using the healing power of Nature. Over plums from Analia’s garden, she answered the five questions for me.
Who is the face of America? As I wait for my flight after all the delays, I walk over to a counter to order a burger and behind the counter, I see a Latino man and a Latina woman, both could be 23 years old, as I look around at the packed lounge, I see people that are Black, Latinos, White, Asian, Middle Eastern and every color in between. I see a traveler coming off her flight. Fair skinned, dark hair, black jeans, Keds shoes, showing off her embroidered hot pink purse made in Oaxaca and she looks Latina, how do I know? I just know. It is noticeable that a third of the workers at the airport are speaking in Spanish through their walkie talkies and listening to salsa music in their headphones.
Transformational in what way? We are not just transient visitors. We are much more. We disrupt traditional industries across the entire spectrum of business. We have been a part of this great country for many years, as the silent minority. We take part in the great American economy and we are here to stay because this is our home.
What is the current Latina/o narrative? Latinos make up roughly 19% of the population and 17% of the workforce and we have made America our home. We are present in every industry, the history, architecture, culture and food. I live in San Diego and all I see is our influence.On the other side, we have labels and stereotypes that follow us everywhere we go. At a posh university where I am a board member, I get treated like a secretary. I can see the difference between how they interact with me in relation to the other board members. As we sit around the oval conference room table, once they see that I am a stakeholder, they change the way they communicate with me.
How does the Latina/o community articulate its needs? In the US, it is a prerequisite to be able to articulate who you are and what you have accomplished in order to be seen and heard. This is a prerequisite that our Latino community must embrace, so they can reach high-level positions in business and within our communities. We tend to settle for what we have and although we are grateful for being in this country, our complacency will keep us in stagnant positions. As a growing majority, we need outspoken leaders that are willing to advocate for our needs. Otherwise, others will speak on our behalf and our vital future will be compromised.
What are the current Latina/o interests? We dream of making it big. The beautiful home. The thriving life. The educated children that grow up to be contributors. We want, prosperity. But we want to be our authentic selves and we don’t want to have to compromise who we are and our culture or mannerisms.
I paused when Analia said that one word, prosperity. It merits some detail. For me, prosperity can be described in one image that I shot earlier this year in Balandra, La Paz, Baja California Sur, México.
In this photograph that I took of Balandra. I flew to La Paz. I rented a car and drove for 20 minutes along the strand to Pichilingue. I stayed in a beautiful hotel. I woke up at 630am and drove ten minutes from the hotel to a parking lot at the foot of a mount overlooking Balandra
I hiked for 30 minutes and watched the sun rise over the mountains facing Balandra. As I sat there, I thought to myself:
“If I could have anything in this Life, it would be to be able to start my days, everyday, here, in Balandra, in Mexico. I’d have a sliced mango, some fresh grapes and a thermos with steaming Kombucha in my Fieldbar.”
There are two different camps when it comes to prosperity in the Latina/o community. Neither of which are wrong but their stories are wildly divergent.
On what I would call the fantasy side, you have the Latino Donor Collaborative. Here is their quote: “If Latinos living in the United States were an independent country, the U.S. Latino GDP would be the fifth largest GDP in the world. The U.S. Latino GDP is larger than the GDPs of the United Kingdom, India or France. Outside of the United States, only Germany, Japan, and China have a GDP which is larger.” On what I would call the reality side, you have factual data about Latina/os living in the United States. Here is the data reported by Anne Price, President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. In the accumulation of wealth, here are samples of the cumulative advantage breakdown by identity:
Japanese Americans: $592,000
Anglo Americans: $355,000
Korean American: $235,000
Mexican Americas: $3,500
This financial figure signifies that when a Japanese American transitions into the afterlife, on average, they can leave wealth valued at $592,000 to their kin. Mexican Americans in contrast, would leave wealth valued at $3,500 to their kin.
Without denying or promoting either the fantasy or the reality, I am curious how the two perspectives can both be accurate? I asked an economist working at a major bank in the Fortune 500. He told me:
“Yes, the Latina/o community is growing at an astronomical rate in the USA. Yes, the Latina/o community outperforms in many respects, like launching new small business, for example. Yes, demographically, they are an entrepreneurial force and thus why all the major retailers want the Latina/o consumer spending dollar. Yes, the children of these Latina/o immigrants are getting more educated. Just in California, the public universities are graduating more than 100,000 Latinos per year. However, there still seems to be a short ceiling to their wealth accumulation strategies that the financial industry is working hard to crack. An educated guess would be because that Asian wealth accumulation typically happens through manufacturing and in the IT industry. The Anglo American wealth accumulation happens through inherited wealth, real estate and speculation. Although this is changing, the Latina/o community is still very cash centric, probably because that is how business in done in their native countries. They have money and they spend money, but they might not be compounding money.”
From my personal perspective, to the point of the economist, the idea of owning a wealth accumulation asset, like real estate, to be able to realize my dream of living near to Balandra is not my goal. And to trap my child in 20-30 years to my dream via Mexican real estate in a primitive coastal desert town is also not my goal.
I found this graphic on prosperity. It comes from a think-tank in London called The Legatum Institute. They believe that “Prosperity is the result of economic and
social well-being working together. True prosperity entails much more than material wealth: it reaches into the political, the judicial, and the well-being and character of a nation – enabling every individual to reach their full potential.”
[Sergio’s footnote: I am not co-signing The Legatum Institute by sharing their graphic. It is managed by an allegedly right wing Conservative Baroness. I don’t even know what it means to be a Baroness in England but it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea.That said, their scripts for their marketing assets are executed brilliantly.]
It seems to me that “economic well-being” is a conundrum in itself.I am positive that there isn’t anybody alive that would rather be “poor” over being “rich” but there is a great Dalai Lama quote that I read recently: “We sacrifice our health in order to make wealth, then we sacrifice our wealth in order to get back our health.” To understand the depth of this quote as it relates to “well-being,” the word “well-being” needs to be detailed in the same way that the word prosperity needs to be detailed.
I tie it back to when Analia correlated her personal happiness and well-being to her integration away from the city and back to the farmland where she grows avocados, plums and mangos.
I took the conundrum over to Louis Barajas. Louis was one of the first Latino Certified Financial Planners in the USA. He began his practice in 1985 and 99.9% of his clients are Latina/os. He’s starring currently in a new television show called Opportunity Knock$.
I asked him, how can Anne Price’s figures and LDC’s fantasies coexist in the same peoples?
“I can tell you that in my experience Latinos are not the best at planning for intergenerational transfer of wealth. Perhaps it’s because of our limiting cultural money beliefs, superstitions, or lack of having access to the right type of financial advisors. When the LDC talks about their numbers on the power of our spending, it's because they are trying to leverage the Latino in the U.S. economy which serves some of the largest brands but doesn’t serve our community.
When we talk about the Golden Rule, it’s usually meant - “The one who has the most gold rules.” And due to our lack of wealth, we don’t have the “most gold.” The solution to our problems is in getting the right education on building wealth without being manipulated by certain financial institutions or organizations that sometimes do us more harm than help Latinos over the long run.”
I went back to cherry pick quotes out of my interview with Javier Palomarez.
“I am at a place now where I am capable of being 10x more effective with 1/10 of the budget. I can help our community elevate as a practice. I have the ability to spark the imagination of our community. I have the ability to get us to coalesce around an idea. I can get us to wake up in an America that says we are blessed to have Latinos as a part of our fabric."
I push this idea of prosperity as Analia Mendez envisions it for our community. The ability to integrate, or transition, into a political lobby that has real wealth. When Analia said goodbye to me, she left me with this: “I have high ideation so let me know if you want to just ideate one day.”
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RECIPE: Oxtail Barquettes
Prepared by Nancy León at Chan’s Bistro, Tijuana, Baja Norte, Mexico Remixed by Betty Liu, Author of My Shanghai
Photography by Betty Liu
Financed by Intelatin, LLC
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 slice ginger
1 clove garlic
1 piece star anise
1 tsp fennel seed
1 oz rock sugar
1-2 bay leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp tequila
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 cup light soy sauce
2 stalks scallion, roughly chopped
Salt oxtail well. In a small bowl, marinade garlic and ginger in tequila.
In a wok over high heat, warm up oil until smoking. Sear oxtail in batches until all sides are browned. Add in 3 tbsp oyster sauce and 1/2 cup soy sauce and cook until reduced by half. Add in tequila/garlic/ginger mixture.
Remove oxtail and place in a dutch oven. Add water until oxtail is just submerged.
Meanwhile, in wok, deglaze with carrot, white onion, and spices until aromatic. Add to dutch oven. Add scallion, remaining oyster sauce, and rock sugar. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for about 2.5 hours, until meat is tender and falls off bone.
Garnish #1: Avocado Mousse
1 ripe avocado
1/4 of a habanero chile, chopped
juice of 1 lime
2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped.
2 tbsp creme fraiche
In a mortar and pestle, combine until a light paste forms.
Garnish #2: Crispy Garlic
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 slice ginger, minced
1 dry chile
4 oz vegetable oil
In a pan at medium heat, heat up oil with dry chile. Add in garlic and ginger and fry until browned and crispy.
Garnish #3: Fresh Scallions
Using 2″ of the pale green and white parts of scallions, slice thinly. Place in cold water until it curls. Drain.
On barquettes, place oxtail. Place avocado on top. Top with crispy garlic and scallions.
RECIPE: Corn Barquettes
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350F. Sift dry ingredients together. Whisk buttermilk and egg together. Whisk in oil until combined. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir to combine. Spread 1 tbsp of batter into barquette molds and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly browned.
Produced by Sergio C. Muñoz Financed by Intelatin, LLC © All Rights Reserved 2022 Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sergio’s work has been featured on/in PBS, NPR, PRX, WNYC-Studio 360, ReVista Harvard Review of Latin America, Latino Leaders Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Animal Político & ¿México Cómo Vamos?
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