By Suzanna de Baca

President and group publisher, Business Publications Corp.

“Originally published in the Business Record”

 

“You don’t look Latina.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that reaction when someone finds out my New Mexican heritage. Clearly, I do not fit their stereotype.

It was ironic to hear this same line recently at the Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs’ Iowa Latino Hall of Fame, because as I scanned the sizable crowd, the rich diversity of the Latino population was evident. The group was assembled to honor Iowa Latino leaders, which is particularly important from a business and cultural standpoint given the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in our state.

The Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs was established in 1974 and has evolved over the decades to represent and advocate for the Latino community. Their 2019 report indicates there were 194,432 Latinos in Iowa in the prior year, a 135% change from 2000. According to a 2019 study by Woods & Pool Economics Inc., Latinos will constitute 12.2% of the state’s total population by 2050.

Since Latinos are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States and in Iowa, it is critical for leaders to develop an awareness of the diversity within this community and to break down stereotypes that lead to bias or prejudice.

One stereotype is that all Latinos are immigrants to the U.S. and that undocumented immigrants come from Mexico. While it’s true that many immigrants in the United States come from south of the border, Latino immigration comes from all over the world. Many Latinos have been here for generations, such as my own family who settled in New Mexico over 400 years ago.

Some believe that all Latinos or Hispanics speak Spanish, have the same customs, eat the same food, and share the same culture. Many U.S. Latinos speak Spanish, but not all. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 75.1% of Latinos speak Spanish at home. Others may not speak Spanish at all or speak different languages. Customs and food are largely dependent on where someone is from. For example, Cubans, Mexicans and Argentines have distinct cultures and cuisines. And some Latinos have simply adopted mainstream American culture.

Another stereotype is that all Latinos have dark eyes, hair and skin. In fact, Latinos are very diverse: white, black and brown. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that Hispanics are increasingly diverse in how they racially identify.

At the Iowa Latino Hall of Fame, there were individuals who represented the many ways of being Latino — various appearances, Spanish speaking and non-Spanish speaking, people from many countries or backgrounds, immigrants and those whose families have been here for generations. And as we witnessed at that event, there are a multitude of diverse and talented Latino leaders here in Iowa, contributing to business, government, education and culture — making our state a better place to live and work.

So back to the comment that I don’t “look” Latina. We may not all fit the stereotypes, but we are your neighbors, colleagues, business and community leaders. And our population is growing. What do we look like? We look like Iowans.

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Suzanna de Baca is president and group publisher of Business Publications Corp. During her 25-plus years of senior leadership experience in the finance, health care and media industries, she has been a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusivity and the advancement of women. Contact her via email.

Picture: Suzanna de Baca and Erika Macias

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