Latinas at the top
“If you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels,” said Ann Richards, the 45th governor of Texas, in her 1988 Democratic National Convention speech.
We love the quote, though we take exception to the first part ... if you give us a chance?
The Latina leaders we know and love never waited around asking for anyone’s permission to perform the extraordinary.
Especially not the seven Latinas who head Philadelphia’s most important Latino non-profits: Joanna Otero-Cruz, Varsovia Fernandez, Carmen Febo, Cynthia Figueroa, Nilda Ruiz, Erika Almiron and Patricia DeCarlo.
Carmen Febo, the executive director of Taller Puertorriqueño, is a physician who for many years practiced family medicine, but today she heads up a vital arts and arts education organization that will break ground on a $10.7 million cultural center this summer.
Concilio, the oldest Latino organization in Philadelphia, relocated to a much larger, new facility in 2014, evidence of the social services organization’s growth, led by Joanna Otero-Cruz.
Meanwhile, with Nilda Ruiz at the helm, the Asociación de Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) is now a community and economic development force within the city, with an annual budget of $32 million.
Beyond the significance of the organizations they represent, these are women of formidable will and remarkable capacity. Erika Almirón, the executive director of Juntos, has made a mostly grassroots organization with a very modest operating budget into a major mover-and-shaker where municipal policies regarding immigrants are concerned.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is that there can never be only one leader,” Almiron says. “If only one person is leading a movement or organization, it can easily fall apart.” One of Juntos’ great strengths is, in fact, that ability to bring together many disparate Latinos and to empower them with a sense of shared purpose.
Varsovia Fernandez has, by dint of intelligence and vision, brought the Philadelphia business community to the forefront of discussions about Philadelphia’s commercial development plans; and Pat DeCarlo, a modest but amazing woman who holds a University of Pennsylvania law degree, turned a small Norris Square civic organization into a community alliance that has been a true catalyst for change in the neighborhood — and beyond.
Cynthia Figueroa’s strong leadership has ensured that Congreso’s health, education and workforce development efforts put it among the 25 largest Latino-led nonprofits in the nation , and has earned it honors from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), among others.
It is not coincidental that these women CEOs and executives have emerged from the non-profit sector — they each have a highly developed sense of civic responsibility, and a commitment to the sustained growth and well-being of the Latino community in Philadelphia.
What is perhaps a bit more surprising is that it is all women who lead our community’s most important organizations — something that really can’t be said for the Philadelphia community at large.
“[It is difficult] for a woman leader, period. There is a lot of doubt,” Figueroa says. “And when you are a woman of color that doubt is even more intensified.”
But the important thing, she says, is to talk about goals, what you want to accomplish. “Say it aloud,” she adds.
Latinas. CEOs. Leaders.
Read Ana Gamboa’s article about each of them and the organizations they lead in this week’s print edition in Spanish, and online at aldianews.com in English and Spanish
The successes of these remarkable women are triumphs for our whole community.
This editorial (and Gamboa’s article), in keeping with Figueroa’s advice, says it aloud: More leaders like these, please.