One of MEDA’s core values is “audacity.” Taking risks is what has scaled MEDA, the community-based organization I have been privileged to lead for 22 years. Like all immigrants, being a risk-taker is baked into my DNA.
By UnidosUs Board Chair Luis Granados, CEO, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), UnidosUS Affiliate, San Francisco
I often reflect on the risk my parents took moving our family of five from the border town of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to Long Beach, CA. A distance of 800 miles meant the center of my world changed, which was especially challenging for a 13-year-old. Leaving everything behind so their three children could have greater opportunity, my mother and father sacrificed much to start over in a place where they did not know the language and no longer lived within walking distance of our family and friends.
That sacrifice certainly paid off, as it has for myriad Latino newcomers. I have firsthand experience that is the same as the community members who walk through the doors of Plaza Adelante, MEDA’s neighborhood center. They remind me of the aunts and uncles of my childhood. I relate to them. I understand their hopes and dreams. I honor their resilience, conviction and hard work.
That understanding led to scaling MEDA’s breadth of culturally relevant services. This started by listening to the community itself. They told us they needed to learn the rules of money in their adopted homeland, so MEDA began baking in financial education to all of our sets of work. They wanted family success translating to student academic achievement, so we brought the two-generation approach of a Promise Neighborhood community anti-poverty education initiative to the Mission. They needed to access capital to start small businesses, so we started our own CDFI, Fondo Adelante, to foster such community ownership. They told countless tales of housing insecurity, so we created a Community Real Estate team and now have 1,300 affordable units preserved or produced. They wanted their voices to be heard, so we began activating community leaders with the ultimate goal of systems change.
I bring that community voice to my new role as UnidosUS board chair, coupled with my desire for sound governance. I am humbled and honored to be just the second Mexican immigrant to take this seat, following in the footsteps of Dr. Marta Sotomayor, the first Latina in this nation to earn a doctorate in social work. In this esteemed position, I look forward to supporting the vision of UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía, gaining insight into the work and lives of my fellow board members, and uplifting the stated priorities of the nearly 300 UnidosUS Affiliates from Boston to San Diego, Seattle to Puerto Rico. I aim to be a thought partner, and to ensure that all perspectives are brought to the table so that all Latinos have a seat at the table. Just as important, I will focus on good governance by a board of directors that is both fully present and fully engaged with UnidosUS. My background on a number of boards has offered me the insight and understanding of how to make that happen. That’s how I see what I bring to the table as board chair.
We now have a moment to seize, together. There is a federal administration more aligned with our agenda. UnidosUS has the leverage, eagerness, and strategies to get things done in Washington, DC, and this will strengthen Affiliates across the nation—and the families each represent. At UnidosUS, there is agreement that we must ensure equitable recovery for our Latinos families, who were disproportionately affected economically and physically by the pandemic.
The MEDA staff quickly saw firsthand that COVID-19 was not an equal opportunity disease. Our organization was uniquely prepared to meet the moment, as our aforementioned scaling meant that we had built the trust and the infrastructure needed to tackle urgent issues in our community, from housing and jobs to small businesses and education. The City of San Francisco has looked to MEDA during the pandemic to disburse everything from recovery funds for workers testing positive for COVID-19 to 0%-interest loans for small businesses.
Most of all, we have brought hope to the community. Where once fear and the reality of the virus prevailed, our San Francisco Latino community has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates. Before, our families were losing their jobs and struggling to pay rent or put food on the table. Now, our hardworking community members are being hired back. Our small businesses that had “Cerrado” signs seemingly frozen in time are now turning over their placards to say “Abierto.” These are all encouraging signs, but much work remains to ensure that recovery is truly equitable for Latinos.
Little did my mother know that when she brought us to this country that her sacrifice would be rewarded in so many ways. She reveled in her children’s many personal, academic, and professional successes. I see my late mother’s strength and hope represented in my daughter, a Latino immigration story carrying on directly from one generation, to the next and the next. This is a story so many of us share and tell—and I vow to always represent those voices to the utmost of my ability. I am grateful to UnidosUS for the trust and for providing me with this forum.