Economic Justice: Lifting Up New Latinx Voices and Leaders

Escucha,” Tomas

This article is the first in a series of articles that NPQ, in partnership with Hispanics in Philanthropy, will publish in the coming weeks. The series brings forward the voices of Latinx leaders within the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to share their experiences on a range of economic justice issues that affect Latinx communities.

At Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), when we talk about the concept of democratizing philanthropy, we mean redefining who we perceive as donors—but also as leaders. As my peer, Eusebio Díaz, pointed out in “Where are the Latinos in Philanthropy?,” “Latinos [sic] currently occupy only one percent of foundation CEO positions and hold just 9.3 percent of program officer positions.” Philanthropy has severely missed the mark in making sure people from underrepresented communities bring their experiences into roles of leadership and governance.

Nonprofit Latinx leaders must also grapple with only one percent of philanthropic dollars being directed to Latinx nonprofits. With 60.5 million Latinxs in the US, it is critical that we occupy seats at the tables of nonprofits and institutions whose policies, funding, and direct services will impact the Latinx community for the decades to come.

The impact of this underrepresentation is deeply felt. Take the COVID-19 pandemic. A March 2021 report from the Center for American Progress found that Latinx people were “1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their non-[Latinx] white counterparts, as well as 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19.”

Unemployment data also show that Latinx workers have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic-induced economic downturn. In January 2021, the unemployment rate for white women was 2.4 percentage points higher than pre-pandemic; for white men, it was 2.7 percentage points higher. By contrast, Latinas saw unemployment rates climb by 3.9 percentage points; Latinos faced unemployment rates that were 4.5 percentage points higher.

One can cite similar statistics that show Latinxs face higher rates of food insecurity and housing instability. And these trends, of course, began long before the pandemic. According to US census data, 2019, 73.3 percent of whites lived in property that their families owned. By contrast, the Latinx homeownership rate in 2019 was 47.5 percent.

The challenges are enormous. While today I am the president of a national philanthropic organization, at the very early stages of my career, I remember how much effort I put into showing up for my jobs. I was focused on actively learning from my peers and challenging myself to approach projects with curiosity. I was proud to share my ideas, but like many young Latinx professionals, I was keenly aware of the inherent biases that would work against my best efforts. There were so many instances at work where I was the only Latina present, and though I try to be intentional about changing that in the spaces I occupy now, there is still a representation gap of those who work in philanthropy and nonprofits.

This past year has taught us how important it is to pause, reflect, and listen to each other. Our love and work for humanity should be rooted in abundance, in the recognition that there is much to learn from data and lived experiences. Our network at HIP, or collective corazón [heart] as we call it, is steeped in a wealth of knowledge on how to address the challenges and celebrate the triumphs of our Latinx communities. I have seen it first-hand from our team at HIP to our grantee partners. It’s why we chose to commit a part of our mission at HIP to strengthen Latinx leadership, while also focusing on Latinx influence, and equity.

Building up Latinx grassroots leadership has become one of the many vehicles we encourage to cultivate a diverse workplace. Rising Latinx leaders have been expected to not only advocate for their communities, but effect change within their sector. We need to listen directly from emerging Latinx leaders.

Today, with over 18 percent of residents in the US being Latinxs, we must be particularly tenacious in our advocacy for representation and resources. There is a brilliant range of Latinx voices. They are protecting businesses from caving during the pandemic because of systemic inequities in the entire financial services sector that overlooks or diminishes the contributions of Latinx entrepreneurs. They are launching campaigns to urge lawmakers to rethink how we limit small businesses from growing with the local economy. They are taking matters right into their own hands by acknowledging the power of the community to advance the rights of migrant women and children. Their work moves us beyond the binaries of language, gender, and ableism that have limited our reach.

At Hispanics in Philanthropy, we are good at mobilizing resources, but we know it is from leaders on the ground where advances in economic justice typically occur. One tool we use to support these leaders is our Líderes Fellowship program, which supports mid-career Latinx leaders working in philanthropy and nonprofits.

The Líderes fellows not only advocate for their communities, but advance change more broadly. Their ability to lead with a moral imperative to address inequities is no small feat. Beyond support for professional growth and networking, we have been deliberate in our holistic healing approach to create a curriculum rooted in restorative practices through social justice and racial equity. These somatic healing practices provide techniques to heal trauma or physical tension in your body so that these Líderes fellows have the freedom to navigate complicated and predominantly white spaces as their authentic and healed selves. By the end of the fellowship the Líderes become a community that support each other to navigate and promote change, and even healing, within the systems they work in and occupy.

The stories that these leaders bring forth are inspiring—and as varied as the multiple Latinx communities from which they come. In this series, you will hear from leaders that are organizing street vendors, and of the many challenges that small Latinx business owners have in operating their businesses. You’ll also hear of the many struggles in the field of immigrant justice and political organizing. And you’ll hear from one of our own staff members. In the crisis, we at HIP have had to change too. We never thought of ourselves as impact investors before, but we are learning how to do so, community by community and business by business.

The key is to advance by listening. By taking strategic cues directly from the very people that have navigated the many systems of oppression faced by underserved communities, we move closer to achieving equity. This means centering a diversity of perspectives from within our Latinx communities to develop culturally targeted community programming, leadership and power building, housing, economic, and education security. It also means learning directly from community leaders about the shifting demographics of migrant communities and how policy, climate change, and gender violence have transformed real-time needs. Most importantly, it means supporting a movement of Latinx advocates that challenge us to do better.

Amid COVID-19, we have all been challenged to reconsider our practices, and recommit to principles of social justice in everything we do. There is a lot that remains uncertain, but there are a few things we know. For example, one lesson that has resurfaced again in the past year is that to disrupt, reimagine, and rebuild, we need to build systems that listen to those with lived experience.

So, as you read the stories in this series, I encourage you to listen deeply to these voices. And as you do, you might encounter at least some innovative solutions that address some of the manifold problems that not only the Latinx community, but society overall, faces right now. If, at the core you start with that careful paying of attention, it is my belief that you can build from there.

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