The future is Latina!

Panelists discuss Latina identity at the 2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference’s Latinas Brunch

“When I’m with other Latinas, there’s something that binds us,” said Alicia Menendez, television commentator, writer, host of the Latina to Latina podcast, and the Brunch’s emcee.

For the past 25 years, the Latinas Brunch has been a highlight of the UnidosUS Annual Conference. Each year, the Brunch is one of the most well-attended sessions as it provides an opportunity to hear from successful Latinas representing a variety careers and industries. Latinas continue to break barriers, and this session is an opportunity to share insights from their careers and the struggles that they have been able to overcome.

The Future is Latina | 2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference

This year The Future is Latina panel featured a stellar lineup of Hispanic leaders, advocates, and creators: Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America; Silvia Olivas, Co-Executive Producer and Story Editor of Disney’s Elena of Avalor; Natalia Oberti Noguera, Founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels; Greisa Martinez Rosas, Deputy Executive Director of United We Dream; and Elizabeth Guzman, Delegate in Virginia’s House of Delegates, representing the 31st District.

Each of the panelists shared similar stories about achieving many of their career goals even though they consistently faced, and often continue to face, internal and external barriers.

Guzman immigrated to the United States from Peru in pursuit of a brighter future for her young children. She lives in Virginia’s Prince William County, the first in the country to adopt 287(g), which allows partnerships between local law enforcement and Immigration Customs Enforcement.

Guzman noted that she was especially motivated to run for office because she was frustrated by the constant rhetoric coming from the House of Delegates that focused on what America does for immigrants, without acknowledging the contributions immigrants make to this country.

“People are always talking about what America does for immigrants, but not talking about what we do for this country. We drive the economy of this country,” she told the audience.

“Nothing and no one can stop the future.” Cecile Richards, Latinas Brunch Speaker

She also recounted a story from her family life. After President Trump won the election her nine-year-old son suggested that they move to Canada or Peru because “we speak Spanish.” She said his concerns fired her up and keep her motivated to be a leader in their community.


Elisa Villanueva Beard told the audience that when she was in high school, she was at the top of her class. But when she was a freshman at DePauw University, she faced substantial struggles.

“I came to realize that I was unprepared for the rigors of college,” Villanueva Beard said. To combat that, she would wake at 4 a.m. on the weekends to study as much as possible. But no matter how hard she worked, she couldn’t achieve grades above a C.

Education was always important to her family, so when she called her mom to talk about her struggles at school, her mother told her in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t couldn’t move back home until she graduated.

“She did me a huge favor, and I wasted no energy wondering if I should quit,” she said, emphasizing that the experience opened her eyes to the issue of educational equity, an issue that has shaped the trajectory of her career.

“I still see a bright future, especially for the next generation.” Ilia Calderon, Latinas Brunch Speaker

Silvia Olivas also spoke about the influence that her mother had on her. When she was little, she would write plays and would cast her siblings in different roles. But, Olivas never realized writing was an actual job. And, her mother opened her eyes to the influence words can have.

“It happened when I was about nine years old, and we had some new neighbors moving in, and they started gambling in the backyard,” Olivas said. “My mom was really worried about the negative influence of this activity, so she gave me a notebook and suggested I write a letter to the local newspaper.”

“I wrote many drafts, but eventually submitted my letter.” The local newspaper ran the letter and, “about a week later, the gambling was shut down,” Olivas said.


For Natalia Oberti Noguera, growing up she didn’t have any visible role models that were queer or that were entrepreneurs who looked like her.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t know anyone who was an entrepreneur or who was queer, so I didn’t have that language,” she told the audience. She praised the media and television for helping people understand who they are, and that, “we can’t be bucketed or siloed.”

Oberti Noguera has a vision of more Latinas investing in Latina-led projects to encourage more diverse entrepreneurship and innovation. Villanueva Beard also reminded attendees that sometimes all they have to do to accomplish their goals is to take the plunge.

Offering her parting advice, Olivas emphasized the importance of not comparing yourself to others even if you are trying to follow a similar career path.  By not trying to be like other she was able to discover “the things that I thought made me weird actually make me unique,” she said.

As we continue to celebrate our 50th anniversary, it is important to acknowledge and share the contributions of Latinas across many industries. To make continual progress in the decades to come, we need to recognize the accomplishments of Latinas and ensure that everyone who wants a seat at the table has one.

Cecile Richards, former President of Planned Parenthood, and Ilia Calderon, the first Afro-Latina to anchor an evening news program for a major news outlet, also gave remarks at the Latinas Brunch. You can watch the Latinas Brunch, including the panel and the speakers’ remarks below:

By Stephanie Presch, UnidosUS Content Specialist

You might also be interested in:

Annual Conference

Elizabeth Acevedo

“This is for all the rats in the room.” Elizabeth Acevedo’s poem about rats wasn’t supposed to be written. While pursuing an MFA, she had to choose an animal to […]

2018 UnidosUS Annual Conference

We must make sure that everyone counts The Constitution mandates a “count of all persons” to determine not only an accurate population count of the United States, but also to […]