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    CNN's Latino in America

    I’ve been looking at several sites that feature Latino perspectives ( and and many write about the great anticipation they had for Soledad O’Brien’s production on CNN: Latino in America. While many take time to thank her for her contribution to the dialogue, they are quick to suggest it just didn’t do our community justice and I agree.  While it must be said that O’Brien’s efforts were indeed a means to create dialogue, it may have also affirmed some of the worst stereotypes about Latinos—most of us are immigrants, we are poor,  we don’t speak English well, our kids are constantly getting pregnant, and education isn’t our biggest priority.    

    As much as O’Brien tried to blend the stories of successful Latinos with those who live in the inner-city, she didn’t bring together some of the most notable Latino scholars who are studying how much Latinos are engaging in American life and how much they contribute to our economy. She missed three incredible demographic trends that must be well understood in order to truly appreciate Latino diversity and understand the remarkable role we play in the future of America’s economic, social and political success.

    First, we are a multi-ethnic community representing 22 different Spanish speaking countries and all with varying levels of acculturation and because of our nation’s shared border with Mexico, there will always be an influx of people who are not acculturated to the US culture.  These are indeed the Spanish speakers among us who reflect their own native countries the most in language and traditions. When some compare the immigrant experience of the Irish, Polish and German families of the past, it is key to understand that those families could not go home so easily. There was no internet, no easy access to long distance calls and moving here meant being cut off from their homeland in significant and profound ways.    In contrast, by the time I was just 12 years old, my immigrant family had traveled and returned to Mexico at least 7 times and each time we were reinvigorated with our cultural roots and relished the time we could be in our extended family. Even so, my parents valued education and my brothers and I all spoke English and Spanish fluently by the time we completed our first year of schooling in the US and though my parents struggled they learned English, too.

    Second,  Latinos in the US have a healthy and growing middle class.  Median income for Latinos is now close to $39,000. Those of us in our 40’s and 50’s who took advantage of educational opportunity programs or veteran benefits or who simply developed a strong trade skill are not just surviving. We are living that America dream so many of O’Brien’s guests seemed unable to attain.  Our spending power as a whole is approaching $1.2Trillion in 2011. Yes, that’s Trillion with a “T”.   We have shaped the way grocery stores stock certain food items. We’ve inspired how fast food outlets feed us.  Our love of music, family, celebrations, and art is creating a business for celebrating quinceñeras, weddings, and baptisms like nothing seen before.  The fastest growing entrepreneurial group in the US is Latinas.  We remain in many ways the untapped opportunity for retailers, automakers, housing developments, and financial services—who desperately need to learn how to attract the Latino consumer.

    Third, Latinos as a whole are 10 – 12 years younger on average than the Caucasian population of the US.  This has huge implications for the American economy and this was sorely missed when O’Brien brought us the stories on the poor and uneducated.  As whites continue to retire in significant numbers, we are the future labor force that will fuel the economic engine of the US.  By 2050, half of the working age adults in the US will be Latino.   If ever there is an argument to indeed make sure Latinos feel included in our society and encouraged to succeed in school and have access to safe neighborhoods—this is it: The future of American enterprise rests on engaging successful Latinos to create, innovate, and promote new visions of the American Dream. Let’s hope that future documentaries on Latinos take time to reflect carefully on nothing less than that.  


    Special Event in Los Angeles on October 20th

    As more corporations discover the value of Employee Resource Groups, many are looking for ways to leverage them as business resource groups that have demonstrate a viable return on investment.  ERGs can be strong allies in recruitment, retention, onboarding and brand development if members are  effectively tappedfor their talents and capabilities.  In fact, leading organizations see ERGs as Business Resource Groups and are creating a wide range of groups to recognize the increasing diversity of the American workforce.  From women's ERGS to Veteran ERGs, some organizations have as many as 15 - 20 different groups. On October 20th, join me at a free event sponsored by State Farm Insurance at their Culver City offices from 4 - 6 pm.  This interactive and informal event is ideal for the ERG leader or sponsor in your organization who would like to learn more about the latest trends in the development and sustainability of ERGs.  Please RSVP to me at or call me at 510.550.7182 for directions and an agenda.  See you there! - M 


    That Wise Life

    Much has been said about Supreme Court Justice nominee Sandra Sotomayor’s belief that her experiences as a Latina affords her unique perspectives that allow her to be a better justice than a white male. Despite how much that comment has been taken out of context, conservatives continued to use this statement to call attention to her “identity politics” and to challenge whether her personal beliefs will limit her fairness as a Supreme Court Justice. Sadly, there’s been much less substantive inquiry about her judicial record which by many standards is truly exemplary and even less of a thoughtful discussion of what actually constitutes “that life” she has lead.

    Even if Sotomayor succeeds at being nominated, it is doubtful that the White House, or Sotomayor herself, will allow for any further discussion of “that life” when in fact her experiences and her perspective actually need further understanding. Justice is not blind. Laws are not written in a vacuum. The mechanics of our legal systems are still at the mercy of human interpretation. To assemble a court of 12 men and women who must disregard fundamental life experiences in order to interpret the law cannot serve our nation well because we are not a nation of robots. Our Supreme Court must reflect the diverse experiences of American life to which our constitution must be applied.

    “That life” Sotomayor has lead is truly such a mystery to most because it is extraordinarily rare to see Latinas in positions of leadership and authority. There are less than one million Latinas in the nation with doctorates, medical degrees, law degrees, or masters in engineering combined—and those who are 50 plus years old are but a small fraction of these. We are often “the only ones” in the room and as such there are often unspoken assumptions made that we got there because we fulfill a quota. Our comments and ideas are thus suspected as having a “self-serving agenda” as if no white male has ever looked for ways to defend their own position. Those of us who are “first generation” in the US, like Sotomayor, often live in a dual world—a life of traditional immigrant beliefs and customs at home while at the same time looking for ways to acculturate as soon as we step outside. Our academic credentials are not necessarily the great equalizer we may be lead to believe. I recall preparing to select my doctoral dissertation committee and discussing this process with my parents who have very limited formal education. With great humility they advised me to pick “buena gente” (nice people) I could work with for the year ahead. My classmates, however, the children of attorneys and professors, garnered far more tactical advice—“find someone who will help you publish your work, another who can find you your first teaching position and one who will guide the statistical analysis”. Hearing about their strategy was a painful reminder that even though I had made it to the game, the playing field wasn’t exactly level. And that reality remains in place during a significant portion of the early stages of a career, if not longer. Upon graduating, there was no one in the family already teaching at an ivy league school to help me figure out that journey and certainly no uncle or cousin to count on for introductions to corporate contacts when I left academia to start a business.

    Can white men relate to these experiences of Latinas? Yes, some do. They can be quite sensitive to these life stories especially if they are children of immigrants and if they surpassed their parent’s education or social class. But despite the social progress of our nation, there remains a remarkable divide of basic skin color. White males are not de facto assumed to be immigrants nor do strangers approach them by asking “Do you speak English?” Well meaning professionals think nothing of complimenting us for being “so articulate or well spoken” yet that’s not typically what gets said of white males. This distinction of race and color is truly unique for people of color.

    Does all this make her a “better” judge than a white male or a judge of any other ethnic group for that matter? Of course not. At the core of her comments was an understanding that her life’s work has been shaped by her humble beginnings, her triumphs and her challenges. These experiences simply allow her to see and interpret issues through a lens that isn’t easily accessible to others—white male or otherwise. “That life” that Sotomayor has had would indeed be worth exploring as it may shed light on the nation’s largest ethnic minority group—a population that sorely needs to be understood in Washington. Unfortunately, the current politics of damage control and message management—require that she draw little attention to her personal life experiences. Ironically, in a nation that is diverse by design, the confirmation process has forced her to minimize her identity and her heritage. Sotomayor’s legal decision making—like those of all other judges before her—are not independent of their complex human experiences and efforts to suggest otherwise, simply does us all a great disservice.


    The Quest for Equality is Not Over

    Today's inauguration of President Barack Obama is the source of unparalleled pride in African American communities throughout the nation and rightfully so.  Many cannot believe that a person of color is now the leader of the free world, working and living in a home built on the backs of slaves.  That poetic irony is at the core of much of today's emotional celebrations. But the quest for equality is not over in this country and it is somewhat troubling that any of today's events could signal to some that years of prejudice, double standards or bias are over.  It does force us to ask however, just when we might mark that day and I am tempted to consider that equality will be achieved when we elect a mediocre person of color to the White House.  Yes, the day we elect a Latino or African American C+ student who meanders in the shadows of a privileged family and whose quest for political office is no more than after thought--well, then I suppose that may just be the day we can propose equality has arrived.

    Make no mistake that Barack Obama is an exceptional individual.  Any careful examination of his life will detail a person who did not grow up with a privileged posture of knowing his admission to the elite schools he attended was a given.  He worked exceptionally hard to access the finest schools in the country, competed to be at the head of his class, and dedicated countless hours to demonstrate his mastery of law in a competitive environment that can be humbling at best and a terrifying daily struggle at worst. His achievements at a young age speak to enormous focus, dedication and yes, "street smarts" to navigate Washington politics.  He did all that without the kind of family history or family name that opens doors, creates access and circumvents the political landmines he has faced.  

    President Obama begins his tenure in the White House resting solely on his tenaciousness, the hard work of his election team and a fundamental faith in his dreams.  He's far from average and  perhaps that truly is what great civic leadership must be--extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.   Is it possible that the first election of an African American to the highest office has finally set the bar for standards we should have followed all along? Now, that is poetic irony!   


    Wellness Help at Work

    The opportunity to reduce health care costs through employer sponsored programs is key to our health care crisis but wellness and lifestyle programs like the ones mentioned in todays WSJ story are only half of the equation. There is substantial research that points to several "social determinants of health" that can be addressed in the workplace. Sir Michael Marmot, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and Director of the International Center for Health and Society at University College London has documented that workers with the least control over their workday often suffer with the poorest health. It shouldn't be all that surprising that being in a job where a worker has little control over daily demands can be wearisome and debilitating. This has enormous implications for the way managers manage and the way work gets designed. If we want to get serious on promoting wellness in the workplace our focus cannot just be on the worker who needs to stop smoking or stop eating poorly. We have to be willing to ask what kind of stressful conditions exist around an employee that undermine her health. A recent documentary Unnatural Causes (available at has summarized these issues and a large number of community organizations and public agencies are rethinking the true nature of our health care crisis. CIGNA has been inspired by this effort and has initiated a program focused on Communities of Health ( The examples in this story are indeed inspiring but let's not get confused with what wellness requires---its about the individual behavior, genetics AND their environment. Are we ready to tackle this? A true response to the nation's health care needs requires this comprehensive view. Maria