Nancy Alvarez, WESH News Anchor moderated this month’s conversation on Latina Women Leaders that included the event’s first ever all Latina panel: Laudi Campo, FL State Director of Hispanic Federation; Sami Haiman-Marrero, CEO of Urbander communications agency; Joanna Lopez, Florida State Rep for District 43; and Amy Mercado, Orange County Property Appraiser.
Moderator Nancy Alvarez began with greeting participants in both English and Spanish. By way of background, she relayed that the numbers tell the story of the Latino Community in Central Florida. Currently Latinos comprise approximately 33% of the Orange County population and the Orange County Public Schools reported that the student population is 56% Hispanic. Connecting with and understanding this growing slice of our community is imperative. She explained that with the Latino population “Our issues are your issues.”
Ms. Alverez asked that the panelists recount their personal stories about how they arrived in Central Florida. She reported that she is a first generation Cuban-American. Ms. Campos moved from Puerto Rico and told of her journey from cleaning houses to the C-Suite of her organization. Ms. Haiman explained that as a second-generation Puerto Rican in the U.S. mainland she was bicultural from birth and felt this gave her an advantage as she felt empowered, yet she nonetheless felt invisible. Rep. Lopez narrated that she was born and raised in a housing project in Puerto Rico. While her family struggled, her mom always emphasized education. Finally, Ms. Mercado described her journey from living in New York and moving to FL to take care of her ailing grandmother. By the way, 28 years later her grandmother is still very much alive!
When asked to share the major challenges of rising in their careers and being Hispanic, Ms. Alvarez shared that her biggest challenge “has always been having one foot at home with Cuban culture and customs and living in the US with these customs and cultures.” She also lamented the notion that she was told to her face that she had only gotten a job because she was Hispanic, and that despite her hard work, others would tell her she got the job because “she checked a box.” While some panelists claimed their biggest challenge has been the language barrier, Ms. Haiman relayed that she spoke English so her challenge involved dealing with male privilege and the patriarchy. As she navigated through the culture clash, she identified mentors and allies who would see her for who she was and pull her “out of invisibility.” Rep. Lopez explained that as an elected official, her challenge is the idea of what an elected official looks like. Certainly, no one expects a divorced single mom, who grew up in the projects. Most of the discrimination she has experienced has revolved around the belief that because she did not present in a certain way, she is not effective. Nevertheless, although the stereotype makes her uncomfortable, she is “bold and outspoken and represents [her] district.” Finally, Ms. Mercado recounted that most people did not think she could do her current job and counseled her to do something different. But, she cautioned, “regardless of how you feel of Latinas, I am capable, just watch me.”
On the topic of how to engage with the Latino community, the panelists emphasized the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of the Latino community. They advised that it is best to genuinely show up and show interest. “Approach us as you would anyone else” recommended Ms. Campo. Rep Lopez reminded participants that “we need uncomfortable conversations” about each other “to find that we are very similar in our issues; it will make us come together and make us stronger.” Ms. Haiman added that a 2006 study by FSU revealed that although Latinos are very nuanced they do have four areas of similarity, those being 1. Interpersonal communications, 2. Time and space perception, 3. Spirituality and the importance of family, and 4. Gender role considerations.
The final discussion centered on how to reach the Latino vote. Ms. Alvarez did not believe that there was an overarching “Latino vote,” but reminded the audience that some Latinos had their vote taken away from them and they live with that trauma. “Immigration is traumatic as they deal with a new country, new language, and new culture; all deserve grace.” Ms. Campo stressed that the political systems in Latin America are not like the USA. “Our community lost their freedom in their country and have come here.” It is important to not only look at the immediate voter, but also at the possibility of future voters. Ms. Haiman informed us that it is about cultural competence. “In the end we are looking to build trust with and within the community. Meet them where they are.”
Rep. Lopez provided three main points to mobilize the Latino voter: 1. understand the issues of the groups that come to central Florida – sometimes that means you just ask. 2. Include Latinos in your platforms. Make it relevant to the Latino communities. 3. Know your demographic – provide bilingual materials and language speakers. To close the discussion, Ms. Mercado highlighted that cultural and generational understanding is important. She explained that living in a multigenerational family, “how I speak with every single member of the family is different... even if it is the same message.”
Today’s program came together to celebrate the remarkable legacy of Latina Leadership and the countless contributions of Central Florida Latina leaders who have left their mark on our area. Their stories demonstrate the power of diversity. Their voices and visions continue to drive progress. The LWVOC invites Latino members of our community to join our organization to lend their voices to the issues faced by all citizens. Additionally, we need bilingual individuals to volunteer with the League as poll workers for the 2024 elections.