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Nuestra Voz conference to amplify Latinx voices across Massachusetts

Latina Circle aims to up business and political representation

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Nuestra Voz conference to amplify Latinx voices across Massachusetts
Eneida Roman and Betty Francisco co-founded Latina Circle to help elevate Latinas to influential positions in the business sector. Now they’re looking to boost Latino representation and engagement in politics. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy of Latina Circle)

Two established Latina attorneys (one now turned entrepreneur) came together in 2012 to address a void in resources to support mid- to senior- level Latina professionals and make strides in narrowing the persistent racial wage and wealth gap. Now the women are turning focus to the political realm as well.

Author: Photo: Courtesy of Latina Circle(l-r) Eneida Roman; state Rep. Juana Matias; Betty Francisco; and Chelsea City Councilor Judith Garcia, at a cafecito breakfast meeting hosted by Latina Circle.

Eneida Roman is an attorney focused on alternative dispute resolution and holds certification as a mediator and industrial/organizational psychologist. Betty Francisco is the founder and president of a consulting practice focused on fitness and lifestyle programs for youth and children. The two had noticed that women tend to avoid self-promotion, presuming (too-often mistakenly) that their hard work and accomplishments will speak for themselves.

In Latina culture, discussing pay is regarded as disrespectful, making it especially difficult for such women to discuss their value, Francisco said. Roman had noted that mid-career Latinas often found few peers. Francisco was told by firms and nonprofits that they did not know where to find diverse individuals to hire or recruit for their boards. In an effort to address all these issues, Roman and Francisco jointly founded Latina Circle, a group intended to help elevate Latinas to influential positions where they can be decision-makers and champion each other. The organization’s work includes networking for senior and on-the-rise Latina professionals, convening workshop for sharing self-advocacy and wealth building advice, and connecting Latinas with opportunities.

Political call

The presidential election brought a new call to action. Francisco and Roman decided it was no longer enough to focus on improving the lives of Latinas and their communities through advancement in the business world; they also had to tackle the political one.

“I’d been to a Hispanic National Bar Association conference in September,” Roman recalled in a Banner phone interview. “I met some people from Latino Victory Project and we were talking about how they were creating a database of Latino professionals who could serve in the presidential administration, and were thinking it’d be a Hillary administration, not a Trump administration. Then the election happened and we were like, ‘Oh my god we need to do something to address the political representation gap.’”

Although Latinos comprise 17 percent of the national population, they hold only 5 percent of U.S. congressional seats and 4 percent of state legislature seats, according to data presented by Latina Circle. On the local level the problem is especially severe: in Boston, Latinos comprise 20 percent of the population and only 7 percent of those appointed to executive positions and city and state commissions and boards.

As with the business sector, self-advocacy was an area Francisco and Roman believed should be strengthened. In Massachusetts, 73 percent of individuals eligible to vote are registered voters. But for Latinos, that rate drops to 42 percent, Francisco said.

“We can start to effect change on these issues by having representation and voice in the halls of power and as a group, we don’t. Especially women don’t,” Francisco told the Banner. “When the election turned out the way it did and that sense of impact, especially on Latino and immigrant communities, we felt even more deeply that we had to do something around engagement and getting more women engaged.”

Among the barriers, Roman said, are a lack of engagement of more recently immigrated citizens as well as persistent sense by Latinos who have long lived in the U.S. that the government does not have their interests at heart.

Using similar strategies applied in the business sector — connecting people to existing resources, rather than creating them anew from scratch — Roman and Francisco are launching a conference this summer, along with other actions aimed to increase the political sway of Latino men and women. They will use the conference to kick off the “Amplify Latinx” initiative of the Latina Circle that convenes civic organizations with Latino leaders.

The initiative focuses on increasing civic engagement and leadership and representation in elected and appointed positions, as well as on corporate and nonprofit boards and executive positions. In June, the group will co-host its first “Nuestra Voz: Amplifying Latino Power, Influence and Impact Conference” at UMass Boston along with the Center for Women in Politics. Francisco and Roman expect more than 250 participants and 30 organizations from across the state to attend. The event will showcase partner organizations that hold trainings on running for office, grassroots organizing, fundraising and other efforts and demonstrate the breadth of opportunities to become politically engaged on various levels, Roman said. Meanwhile, organizations seeking diverse talent for board positions and volunteers will have a chance to recruit.

“It’s building the next generation of Latino leaders, who are very civically minded, civically engaged but looking to have social impact,” Francisco said

Follow-up engagement

At the end of the conference, participants will be asked to commit to one of eight actions such as volunteering for a campaign, raising funds for a candidate, running for office and serving on a nonprofit board, Roman said. To further maintain engagement, four forthcoming workshops will focus more tightly on the topics of running for office; holding leadership positions outside of a day job; civic engagement, advocacy and grassroots organizing; and amplifying Latina voices by connecting participants with media mentors and guidance on writing op-eds. The latter workshop was inspired in part by a realization that nearly 90 percent of op-eds are written by white men.

“We want to shift the paradigm and make sure we offer different viewpoints so we can change the conversation from a topic that only matters to certain people to one that matters to Latinos and people of color,” Roman said.

Later, the organization will hold an ‘un-conference’ focused on discussion among participants over listening to a featured speaker. The event will focus on coalition building and identifying issues affecting Latino communities and potential solutions.

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