Luz Corcuera: Leading UnidosNow
Since 2015, Corcuera has led UnidosNow and provided the local Latino community in central and southwest Florida with various higher education programs.
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Education has always been important to Luz Corcuera. Raised in Lima, Peru, Corcuera says that her parents were supportive and expected that she and her siblings would go to college. She went to a private university in Peru after competing with 30,000 other applicants for a spot.
Due to political unrest in the 80s, she and her husband emigrated to Canada. While there, she received her accreditation and worked as a psychotherapist in Ontario. After 16 years in Canada, her family moved to Florida. When Corcuera was told that she would have to spend two to three years getting her accreditation again, she decided against practicing in the United States.
She then switched to the maternal/child health field, working at Healthy Start Manatee. She later became the Community Health Director for the Department of Health for Manatee County.
In 2015, Corcuera was named the Executive Director of UnidosNow after working in the background since the organization was founded in 2010. She explained that the organization was founded, “to honor the rapid growth of the Hispanic-Latino population in the area, but also as a response to [an] anti-immigrant bill which was very similar to one that was passed in Arizona, that would lead to racial profiling, misunderstandings, and really mistreatment of immigrant Latinos, but particularly the undocumented people.” UnidosNow works to “elevate the quality of life of the growing Hispanic/Latino community in the Manatee and Sarasota region [in Florida] through education, integration, and civic engagement.”
When Corcuera took over UnidosNow, she decided to focus on its education programs and delve deeper into these efforts instead of expanding in a broader way. Prior to this, most of their programs were focused on high school and college-aged students, so they introduced new programs like Future Leaders Academy for Girls (FLAG) and Future Leaders Academy for Middle Schoolers (FLAM) which are aimed at elementary students and middle schoolers.
FLAG is a program for Latina girls in 3rd to 5th grade to develop skills and allow them to explore nontraditional fields for girls like science and technology.
FLAM is a program that helps middle schoolers and their parents with the transition to high school. Participants also learn about community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year colleges/universities.
They also created a program for parents that helps them navigate the school system and get them more involved in their children’s education called the Parent Leadership Program.
Both of Corcuera’s daughters went through the school system in Florida and she explained that they took every educational opportunity presented to them. They ended up getting full rides to undergrad and grad school at selective colleges. This is what Corcuera hopes for all of the students that go through UnidosNow programs.
Challenges facing the community
Corcuera talked about how the Latino community is facing challenges because of the narrative that the Trump Administration created that labeled them rapists and criminals. This halted the progress made during the Obama administration and efforts for comprehensive immigration reform. There are between 10 and 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Corcuera points out the essential work that they do and argues, “We don’t accept and recognize their presence. We think that they don’t exist, but we use the fruits of the[ir] labor.”
She added that passing comprehensive immigration reform is crucial, especially for young people who didn’t qualify to become DREAMers. They often find themselves in limbo when it comes to their education.
“I think it is important that we give them a path because these kids are kids that are educated. It is a hypocrisy to say that… elementary, high school are the formative years and education is free for everyone, and then when they finish high school to say that, ‘no because you don’t have a piece of paper, you don’t have the right to continue pursuing education,’” said Corcuera. “We need to make sure that we capture all those talents that are ready and already giving back to the community.”