Latino representation in leadership positions currently varies depending on the area of society, but the vast majority has something in common: it is lower than the almost 20% of the U.S. population the demographic is headed to represent.
For example, 52 members of the 118th Congress are Latino, comprising 9.7% of the 534 voting members in both chambers, And they hold 3% of executive leadership positions in the U.S., according to the Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Hispanic Access Foundation is seeking to change that, providing support to Latinos in different areas, as well as networking opportunities. The Latin Times spoke with Maite Arce, Hispanic Access President and CEO, to learn more about the organization's work, goals and challenges.
The following conversation has been edited for extension and clarity purposes:
How did your personal story lead you to create Hispanic Access Foundation?
I'm originally from Mexico, but my family and I settled in southern California when I was little. We have the immigrant story, one of adapting to a new environment. I was the oldest daughter and the first one to learn English. I helped them navigate this new environment, including in terms of finances, the education system and other responsibilities from a pretty young age.
I thought I had done a fantastic job until I made it to college and realized all of the opportunities and resources we had missed out on because of a lack of awareness and understanding what was available to us. That led me to the nonprofit sector and after some 15 years in that sector in the sector, also moving to the DC Metro Area and realizing how public policy was a critical element for our community, I founded Hispanic Access Foundation. It started with the idea of providing access to quality information and resources, but has since expanded.
How do people approach the foundation? How do you help them?
The core of our work is Leadership development. We have the MANO program, which is a youth workforce development program. These are paid internships in natural resource management agencies. We expose young professionals to careers that they are passionate about and haven't been accessible to them in the past.
We put out the announcement in universities and on social media and people will see these paid opportunities that are very interesting to them. We help develop their leadership in the process and make sure we break down the barriers they're facing and make sure they're walking into these non-diverse environments and making sure they're paid well, they have stipends, health insurance and can develop a peer network of support.
What areas have you seen the most interest in?
A great deal on the environment, green jobs. Also engineering and more standard fields like communications and accounting. So there's a big variety. Our young people are being very strategic about where they want to work who they want to work for and what kind of a job really they can get that they feel purpose behind and passionate about.
Have you seen much change in this area in the past years? Mainly in environmental jobs?
Absolutely. I think especially in areas like Puerto Rico, the number of people who are taking the route of a career in the environment has increased significantly. The climate crisis is really a priority and we're seeing huge numbers of applicants from Puerto Rico, people who have their degrees and they're ready to go.
You have an area focused on pastors. Has religion been playing a bigger role in the community? Many studies show that people are actually drifting away from religion. What has your experience been like?
We know that for a part of the Latino Hispanic Community, faith, religion and spirituality have been a priority. And things are changing at a general level, but it's still very strong. We see faith essential to help building a thriving community.
Pastors play a very important role in providing services and volunteerism and connecting people to resources. They're a trusted source and some of the most vulnerable immigrant communities. They also work as connectors with the broader community.
What is your strategy for 2024? Does it vary from year to year?
Our strategy is solid and has been so even during the pandemic. We're developing 10,000 leaders across all 50 states and the territories so that they have the capacity to address their communities and meet their needs. To do so we engage with trusted partners for the community and provide resources and opportunities to develop these leaders and secure funding to advance the work they do on community issues.
Does the national conversation affect your day-to-day? Especially when it comes to immigration
It's a very big concern for us and we feel the pressure. There's a growing urgency to address the issue, which is so complex. For us it's key to make sure that community leaders have the tools and knowledge to best deal with their decision-making processes. Our community needs to have power when it comes to immigration reform, it's one of the most urgent issues.