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Raquel Tamez challenged the next generation of Philadelphia's leaders to not rise to the top alone. Photo: scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/

“Dare to change the world,” Raquel Tamez’s challenge to AL DÍA’s inaugural 40 Under Forty class

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AL DÍA's inaugural 40 Under Forty was a time to recognize and celebrate some of Philadelphia's future leaders.

But amid the festivities, there was a shining light and challenge posed by keynote speaker Raquel Tamez, the CEO of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

She began by thanking AL DÍA for its unwavering commitment to familia and comunidad, and recognizing the  resilience and hard work required of the times. 

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the world shifted quickly overnight to remote work, virtual meetings and events, and the world felt like it came to a standstill for a moment. However, as it is said in theater: the show must go on. 

Tamez explained that even though she was not able to be present for the event, she did her research on Philadelphia, and the rich Latinx culture it held.

She started with the first wave of Cuban and Mexican American immigrants to arrive in the late 18th century to the Centro de Oro and its melting pot of Hispanic that includes a killer Latin-inspired culinary scene. 

“This history gave me new appreciation for the vital role Hispanics have played in Philly’s history,” said Tamez. 

Part of her research led Tamez to  AL DIA’s 200 years of Latino History in Philadelphia. 

As she flipped through its pages, one name stuck out for its familiarity, but she couldn’t pinpoint where she’d heard it before. The name was Félix Varela.

Félix Varela’s story

Varela was born in Havana, Cuba in 1788. He grew in St. Augustine in New Spain, and eventually made his way to Spain later in life.. 

He would later have to escape  from Spain for having opposing views, and came to America at 36 years old to none other than Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

“A place that would be foundational to his future endeavors,” said Tamez 

Here, in the City of Brotherly Love,Varela created the first spanish-language magazine ever published in the United States called El Habanero. 

It was one of the several magazines he would launch during his lifetime.

Varela’s perseverance and dedication to expressing the Latino voice in America throughout his life in publishing is the same model as AL DÍA, and the challenge Tamez posed to honorees of its inaugural 40 Under Forty as young leaders in their fields and the city.

Pulling others up on the journey

“It is not enough to succeed as individuals. It is not enough to climb the proverbial mountains of our own respective professions or organizations.We need to be more than role models and exemplars. We need to be advocates,” she said. 

That advocacy extends to not only for diversity, inclusion, equity and justice in their industries and beyond, but also for those that come after them. “For every rocky sledge that we scale we need to reach down and help someone take that step up. Just as others, no doubt did for us,” said Tamez  

She went on to mention that despite Latinos making up the biggest ethnic minority group in the country, we still only hold high-ranking positions in 10% of the work sphere. 

With those stats in mind, pulling up those following in their footsteps is more important now than ever before. 

It’s also important given the events of 2020.

“It is easy to lose sight with the chaos happening all around us. A pandemic that's exposed the flaws in our social and political institutions. The heinous killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and too many others to count. Months of protests in cities across the country, a nation more polarized than it's ever been. A social fabric tearing at the seams,” said Tamez. “These are tumultuous times. Trying times. A reckoning, no doubt.”

How to be the change

Throughout the last two months, a lot of us have asked if we’ve contributed to the problem or if we’ve contributed to change. Those are the same questions Tamez has asked herself.

“How do we account for it all? How do we address some of these challenges and solve the long standing systemic issues that people of color have faced for decades? How can we keep climbing this mountain and make sure that others have a foothold as well when that mountain is being buried in a blizzard? It feels impossible. Overwhelming,” she said. 

“Until we remember that we’re not climbing this mountain alone.”

And that’s where the 40 honorees come in.

“Dare to change the world. Dare to write a line in America’s narrative,” said Tamez. But don’t lose sight of your own backyard.” 

But it is okay to shoot for the stars too.

Like Felix Varela once said “You have a chance to leave your mark. Not just on the city, not just on your community, not just on the country, but on the world.”

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