Why Latinx representation in leadership roles is important for the success of Latinx children

Story by TYSON ALDRIDGE

The importance of role models in everyday life cannot be underestimated. Children anywhere from ages 3 to 16 look for an older role model whom they can look up to and learn from. Most people can think back to when they were younger and remember who their role models were. Sometimes these role models can even help shape a young child’s future career or passion. But oftentimes for young children of Latinx descent it can be hard to find positive role models in important positions. That is why Latinx representation in leadership roles is vital for the success of Latinx children.

According to a 2011 article, “In 2008, only 28 percent of traditional college-age Hispanics were in college, up from 17 percent two decades earlier.” The importance of roles models for young Latinx youth is stressed throughout this article, and with positive role models the author thinks this could result in more Latinx students attending college, or applying for positions they may not have otherwise.

Having legislators, teachers, coaches, or athletes to look up to can help a younger generation dream bigger and truly believe that they one day can be in a prominent leadership role.

Former Utah State House Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck says, “The reason why it’s so important is because if we are not the anomaly anymore, if we’re seen as the norm, if we’re seen as a default, that anybody can be a legislator, anybody can be a leader, that you’re not making this image in your head, ‘a leader is x, this is what HE looks like’ more often than not.”

Chavez-Houck also explained that the reason she got into politics was because she wanted to help diversify the state government. She attended an event where she saw all of the representatives from Utah and she said she was shocked by the lack of diversity that was represented. So she took it upon herself to get involved in politics and give the Latinx community of Utah a voice in the capitol. And in doing so, little girls and boys can see a Latinx leader in the government and aspire to possibly be in a leadership role someday.

Cherise Tolbert, who works for latpro.com, said in a 2018 article that “cultural, ethnic, and gender-related barriers are too easily accepted as part of one’s identity. One could assume that without role models, Latina women cannot become nonprofit leaders. I think a young latina woman who sees an executive board member, whose contributions inspire and command respect, will want to follow the board member’s footsteps.”

Erlinda J. Martinez, the current president of Santa Ana College in Southern California,  said in an email, “It is very important that we have role models in every profession; that students see teachers like themselves, that defendants see attorneys and judges like themselves , etc.” With the number of the Latinx population growing in the United States, it is vital to have representation in leadership roles. Martinez added, “If children and students see themselves in others it becomes easier to believe that they too can become anything they want!”

Martinez explained how having positive role models can make a drastic difference in the future. She said, “Once there are role models in professional/leadership positions it leads to decision making that is in keeping with valuing diversity and inclusion.” This is essentially where a domino effect would take place. “More Latinos become educated. More Latinos are hired or promoted. The justice system changes. The education system changes. The economics changes, etc.,” Martinez said.

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David Ibarra is in the process of running for mayor. Photo by Tyson Aldridge.

David Ibarra, a current candidate for Salt Lake City mayor, said in a phone interview, “It’s important for all parts of our community to participate and to be represented. The Latino community is going to be the majority community shortly in America.” Ibarra stressed the importance of Latinxs getting out and supporting their candidate to ensure that they are represented at all levels.

Being a role model can be a very tough road, but the story you get along the way can be inspiring. This held true when Ibarra said, “Anytime that a Latino breaks through it is an example that it is possible for anyone. I was brought up in foster homes, and have been a dishwasher at a restaurant. Ten years later I owned the restaurant through hard work and perseverance.”

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Dave Ibarra poses in front of his “Let’s think Big” poster. Photo courtesy of the Dave Ibarra for Mayor campaign.

The biggest thing stressed through all the interviews was vision. Being able to see yourself in a leadership role because the person in that role is like you. Ibarra said, “I share my story only for the benefit of the youth that if it can happen to me, then it can happen to you. It breaks through the glass and makes them believe that it is possible. Latinx in politics is huge because not only can I think I can do it, I know I can.”

Positive Latinx role models are vital for the future. Having Latinx leadership will give kids a higher bar to aim for. It can help give them the mindset that they can be in an important position. “We pursue what we see,” Rebecca Chavez-Houck said. “And if children do not see people that look like them that have their experiences, that have their perspective that represent their communities, then they don’t see that as an opportunity for themselves.”