Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and going beyond storytelling for true inclusivity
Since 1970, the Hispanic population has grown more than sixfold in the United States.
The U.S. Hispanic population reached 62.1 million in 2020, accounting for 19% of all Americans and making it the nation’s second largest racial or ethnic group, behind White Americans and ahead of Black Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is also one of the fastest growing groups in the U.S. Between 2010 and 2020, the country’s Hispanic population grew 23%, up from 50.5 million in 2010.
With roots tracing to the island of Puerto Rico, Mexico and more than 20 other nations across Central and South America, Hispanic Americans are a diverse population with a wide variety of experiences and views about American society often differing depending on whether they were born in the United States or immigrated to the country. Consider the scope of self-identifying terms: Latina, Latino, and their non-gendered versions Latine and Latinx, Hispanic, Chicano, Tejano, Taino, Isleños, Boricua and Afro-Latino. In some ways, the diversity of the terms that exist represents the ongoing fight to be counted and recognized for more than tired stereotypes that the Hispanic community has dealt with for decades.
For the past thirty years, the U.S. has observed Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15 – marking an opportunity to share traditions, educate and correct Hispanic misrepresentations.
Growing up in Chicago as the daughter of two Mexican immigrants, Lyanne Alfaro was never bored of the endless news cycle her home city offered. From a young age, she gravitated towards a career in journalism, she just knew she was destined to be a storyteller. What she didn’t understand in her youth, was why she didn’t see any journalists who looked like her on the screen. As many experienced during the pandemic, transitioning to remote work prompted a series of self-reflections for Alfaro. After years of observing a lack of representation when it came to people of color and mass media portrayal, she decided to take a leap of faith and focus her outward work inward. Her weekly newsletter turned podcast Moneda Moves was born to tell stories about Latinos in business, their relationship with money and overall role in the American economy.
“It seemed that the main conversations [surrounding Latinos] were around our lack of money and the conversation stayed rooted in poverty,” recalls Alfaro. “However, when it came to the Latino demographic, I knew that I came from a neighborhood in the Northwest side of Chicago where a stone throw away, you would find a small business owner. So I was just like, how cool would it be for people to start seeing themselves represented in a different way? [As] owners of businesses, entrepreneurial minds, and culture shifters.”
Numbers clearly indicate that Hispanic entrepreneurs are driving job creation and economic growth, with the Latino GDP now topping $2.3 trillion according to the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA) comparable to the world’s eighth-largest economy, behind India and larger than the GDP of Italy, Brazil, and Canada.
This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month theme is: “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation,” a theme that feels extremely relevant. At a time when Hispanic people are making huge cultural and economic contributions – Latino-owned businesses in the United States contribute more than $800 billion to the American economy annually according to the SBA – disinvestment and systemic barriers continue to limit their access to capital and support.
Creating a more inclusive workplace for the Hispanic population starts with increasing access.
“I think that we need to have a bigger discussion here. Yes, we can talk about how Latinas are overrepresented in lower paying jobs,” says Alfaro, “but when are we going to talk about how Latinas who are already in corporate need to be promoted to the C-suite? When are we going to talk about breaking these ceilings and also putting people in positions of power?”
Hispanics are the CEO at sixteen of the companies on the S&P 500, according to research provided by the LCDA, which is the most ever at one time.
“At the end of the day, people who have power have the autonomy to influence who gets to be wealthy, so these people matter a lot,” says Alfaro.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, Alfaro joins many who hope Corporate America does more than just share Hispanic stories.
Although the goal of celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month is to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American champions who have inspired others to achieve success, Alfaro encourages companies to move beyond guest speakers, exhibits, films, or social media posts. While she’s a storyteller by trade, she says stopping at sharing stories will not cause the shift that America needs to create more equitable communities.
“I hope that Corporate America starts looking at their metrics of success not in terms of short bursts and immediate sentiment and gratification, but long term impact,” she says. “In order to influence long term impact, I think we need to bring in different sectors to a room to discuss solutions. We need policy involved. How do we ensure that somebody who enters a company at a certain level has a way to get into higher positions? To the C-suite, what is the track? Who are the mentors and how are we measuring the success of these programs?”
“You want people to not only feel like they belong, you want them to actually thrive in this environment, Alfaro continues. “I think that that takes a really hard look at your company and how it’s operating and asking, who is this serving? Is this serving people equitably? How can we measure the success of the programs we put in place?”
The resiliency of Latino entrepreneurs is one aspect of the community Alfaro says is worth highlighting this Hispanic Heritage Month.
Although the pandemic had broadly negative impacts for Hispanic owned businesses, some firms reported positive impacts like revenue growth and cost reductions as well as positive actions they took to improve their business like increased use of technology, moving into
Ecommerce, improving client outreach, and improving management style, according to a report by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative.
“[Latino] businesses have been very resilient, Alfaro notes. “The ones that made it, made it. They either pivoted into Ecommerce or they adopted the right technologies. They may not have all the capital in the world, but they are very resilient. I think when we look at these figures, we need to make sure that we’re paying attention to all the nuances and all the ways that we are winning despite our circumstances.”
While some progress has been made, Alfaro points out there’s untapped power in embracing people with different mindsets, backgrounds and lived experiences.
Her message to political, economic, and business leaders setting the tone during this Hispanic Heritage Month? Do a better job at recognizing how diverse hispanics are.
“You’re dealing with a nation of immigrants and daughters and sons of immigrants,” she says. “There’s such a richness to tap into. I think we really need to start to listen to people.”
Photo by Valerie Sigamani