By Natalie Somerson, Youth Education & Enrichment Programs Coordinator for the Minneapolis-based UnidosUS Affiliate Comunidades Latinas Unidos en Servicio (CLUES).
Getting better Hispanic representation is tough in almost any U.S. state, but try being the first to blaze that path in Minnesota’s municipal government. Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez was honored for modeling that very process last month during a Gala Latina hosted by the state’s largest Latino organization, UnidosUS Affiliate Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio or CLUES.
“Our paths to leadership and purpose are never straight forward and easy, but we are here to remind you that you have an entire community to lift you up, to provide support and guidance, because your success is our success,” Regan Gonzalez stated before an audience of some 650 business and community leaders from across the state.
CLUES holds its annual awards ceremony every October in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, and the statements she made at this year’s October 10th ceremony were aimed at eight attendees who came representing CLUES’s second cohort of the UnidosUS young Latina leadership program Entre Mujeres.
The cohort meets twice a month at CLUES St. Paul and hosts young women from eight different schools around the Twin Cities.
“Mayor Regan Gonzalez’s words really touched me, especially when she shared her story and how we should all get out there,” said Entre Mujeres participant Maggy Alarcón, a senior at Highland Park Senior High in St. Paul, MN, who noted this kind of Latino networking was a new experience for her.
Meeting the Mayor of Richfield was just one networking opportunity. Throughout the event, the young women got to meet a wide array of Minnesota elected officials as well as community leaders representing Fortune 500 companies. They even got to network with a Latina whose entire job revolves around that concept: Univision MN Reporter Fernanda Almeida.
“When I immigrated to the United States, I did not arrive with a work visa for the job that I have today. Networking helped me create the connections to continue with the career I already had in Mexico,” says Almeida, who also works as a model and actress for several Minnesota talent agencies. Later that evening, she put several Entre Mujeres participants in front of the camera to share their impressions of the event and the takeaways they got from its many workshops on identity, leadership development, career exploration, representation and storytelling.
“Attending the Gala Latina was an amazing opportunity to see the work of other Latinos and have them be recognized and acknowledged. It was inspiring to be present and listen about the work that is being done to improve our community so it could help build a better future for the younger generations of Latinos. Talking with Fernanda brought me enthusiasm that powerful changes to our community are soon to come,” said Entre Mujeres participant Tania Acevedo Garcia, a senior at Washington Technology Magnet School in St. Paul, MN.
Entre Mujeres Instructor Natalie Somerson said she could tell the curriculum was working by how well the ladies were received.
“I got so many compliments from CLUES staff, as well as community members,” she said. “Gala Latina guests were impressed with how poised and confident the young ladies were as they networked and talked with other attendees.”