Elected Latinas tell it like it is
The recent NALEO conference highlighted gender, power & leadership.
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The four women were treated like rock stars.
For an hour after they finished speaking to a ballroom full of Latino elected and appointed officials, the women shook hands, accepted hugs and posed for pictures or took selfies with fans.
Latinas Luz Weinberg, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Lina Hidalgo and Bonnie Garcia drew repeated applause as they described their battles to win political campaigns — from overcoming financial hurdles to ignoring skeptics and refusing to take no for an answer.
Garcia, a Republican from California, sparked laughter when she shared her grandmother’s advice: “Cuando te cierren la puerta, subete por la ventana” (when they close the door, climb through a window).
“You either create your opportunities or you sit there crying into your soup,’’ Garcia said. “…Instead of thinking outside the box, re-invent the box, blow up the box.”
Last year, Hispanics successfully expanded their ranks in Congress to a record 42, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
Latinas made history in several states, including Texas which elected its first two Latinas, Veronica Escobar from El Paso and Sylvia Garcia from Houston.
“Gender, Power and Leadership” was the last major plenary during NALEO’s recent annual conference held at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami and attended by about 1,000 members.
Two other significant portions of the conference included discussions on the upcoming U.S. Census count and a forum with eight Democratic presidential nominees televised by Telemundo. There also were panels on the need for more mental health resources in schools and continued challenges with affordable housing and the economy. NALEO members conducted a service project during the conference, filling up bags with necessities for local homeless families.
Moderated by Weinberg, CEO of GlobCOMM, a Miami-based communications consulting firm, the gender and power plenary drew a packed house to listen to the women dispense advice on fundraising, mentoring, and other topics.
The bios of all four women are filled with “firsts.”
Weinberger was the first Hispanic elected to the city commission in Aventura, Florida. Barragán was the first Latina elected to the city council in Hermosa Beach and the first Latina to represent California’s 44th Congressional district. She currently sits on two powerful House committees: homeland and energy and commerce.
Hidalgo is the first Latina to be elected Harris County Judge, a nonjudicial position that serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Harris County and manages a $5 billion budget.
Garcia was elected in 2002 to represent California’s 80th Assembly District, the first Hispanic woman to represent the district and the first Puerto Rican elected to statewide office in California. She is currently director of legislative affairs for ecoATM Gazelle, which buys and resells used technology devices.
“We want more firsts,” Weinberg said as the panel kicked off. The four women each shared personal details of the challenges they faced as they sought public office.
Barragán said her boss questioned her abilities.
“It motivated me to go out and work harder to show that I could do it,” she said. “I was the first Latina ever elected in Hermosa Beach, in a place that was 86 percent Cacausian, where people said ‘You can’t win there, there are no Latinos there.’”
Hidalgo recounted how on the campaign trail she was constantly given advice on how to dress. “One person wanted me to wear the hoop earrings to celebrate my youth, another person wanted me to wear pearl earrings to make myself look older.”
Hidalgo and the other women said they also were very conscious of being role models.
“Part of it is saying you can do it and part of it is having these young girls, young women, young Latinas in general seeing you can do it,” Hidalgo said.
The women said they did not let their lack of political experience deter them from developing their campaigns.
“You just have to jump into the deep end,’’ Hidalgo said, noting that the support of other Latinos in office is important.
But that in the end the candidate has to bring in the millions it takes to win, she said. “Even if they recruit you, they are not going to raise the funds for you,” Hidalgo said.
“That’s why it’s important for the people in this room who know how to do it to teach others how to do it,” added Garcia, who says she shares her fundraising list with those who are willing to pay it forward and help others.
At the end of the discussion, Weinberg summed up some of the takeaways offered by the panelists:
- Use your disadvantage to your advantage
- Build relationships
- Invent something if it doesn’t exist
- Remember that you’re always running for something
- Mentor someone
Weinberg also noted the other challenges women face. “We also deal with color, we deal with age, we deal with families and we deal with the guilt of not being home,” she said.
Barragán told the audience her mother’s Alzheimer’s forced her to change her schedule to spend Sundays in California instead of flying to Washington, D.C. and preparing for Congress.
And despite having to juggle her mom, family, being single and Congress she is exactly where she wants to be.
“I love the job. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she said. “I am super happy.”
Garcia said while in office she took one day off for “me, God and my family.”
And based on her personal experience of going from public office to the private sector, Garcia urged NALEO members to think ahead of what’s next once they leave office and how they can continue to make an impact.
She shared more of her grandmother’s advice: “No te olivides quien tu eres” (don’t forget who you are).
“Stay humble,” said Garcia.