Hispanic Leadership: In search of “the one”

Last November, the Pew Hispanic Center released the results of a survey that addressed Latino leadership. For the majority of Latinos in the U.S., the findings indicated there is not a single individual – be it a celebrity, politician, activist, or businessperson – that is considered a national Hispanic leader. The aptly titled press-release stated, National Latino Leader? The job is open.

This inspired me to consider our own Hispanic community here in Grand Rapids and West Michigan. Who is our local leader?

Some time ago, I had a conversation with a representative of a Grand Rapids based social service provider. I asked what Hispanic outreach efforts the organization was involved in. The response was: Since the local Hispanic community, by their indications, had not decided on a local leader, the organization’s Hispanic outreach efforts would be on hold until such a leader was determined by the Hispanic community at large.

This response struck me as odd. Not only because of the assumption that ordinary, hard working Latinos would somehow come together on their own accord and decide on a single leader, but because there are, in fact, many Hispanic individuals already engaged in leadership roles within our West Michigan communities. Had this organization not heard of them?

Were they not familiar with Martha Gonzalez-Cortes, director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. Her and her team of staff members work diligently to connect area Latinos with services in the social sectors. Perhaps they were not aware of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and its director Carlos Sanchez. Carlos has consistently been working with both general market and Hispanic business owners making connections and driving value. Or, maybe they were not familiar with Hispanic leaders in the local medical community like Maria Del Carmen Cruz and Progama Puente, a case-managed branch of Spectrum Health, one of the area’s leading hospitals.

If our local West Michigan organizations and businesses reflect what is happening nationally, then the Pew Hispanic Center is correct – there is no single Latino leader. The truth is, there are several Latino leaders that fulfill a myriad of needs and offerings in our community, just like in many other communities across the U.S.

So what can businesses and organizations wanting to connect to Hispanic communities learn from this? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t look for “the one” – that single leader who will represent all things to all Latinos. Latino communities are very diverse, coming from various nationalities and backgrounds.
  • Do look for individuals that are already connected to your local Hispanic communities. Chances are, even if that person cannot represent your specific product or interests, he or she will know of somebody that can.
  • Work with a professional that has a working knowledge of Hispanic or multi-cultural marketing communications.
  • Don’t simply rely on a person within your organization that happens to be of Hispanic background.

I understand that connecting to Latino communities can appear to be an elusive task for many general market companies and organizations. Most likely, there are individuals and leaders of various professional backgrounds within these communities that are looking to make connections and build bridges.

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