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LATINA discusses success for Latinas in politics

Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent


Sonia Sotomayor’s approval as the U.S. Supreme Court Justice shattered a tough glass ceiling in Washington, D.C. but similar stories of Latinas succeeding in government and public sector can be found in Ohio too—including Gov. Ted Strickland’s recent announcement that he was appointing boricua Keila Cosme to be Appellate Judge for the 6th District—click here to see related story.


Fuentes, Omayra Feliciano, Lilleana Calderon-Cavanaugh and Anita López.

On Oct. 29, 2009, Leading and Advocating, Together In New Arenas (L.A.T.I.N.A.) brought together some of the most inspiring leaders in Ohio, with 60 guests to discuss women in politics at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. The women discussed their success stories, roadblocks, rendered advice and vowed to support the strong Latina sisterhood.


“We still lack women in power, individuals are not involved,” Lucas County Auditor Anita López said. She did not want to wait for someone else to give her community a voice. “I don’t think individuals intentionally neglect us, they don’t think about us all the time because they don’t mingle with us,” she said.


 Ambition, hard work, and strategic planning for the future has yielded great results for López, who said she knew she wanted to become a lawyer and work in politics since the age of 12.


Surrounded by a 50 percent dropout rate in Toledo’s high schools, rocketing numbers of unplanned pregnancies, Ms. López knew she had to remain focused and credits her father for having candid discussions about boys, and sex.


López began volunteering in politics to understand how things worked and whom they worked for. “When you are a volunteer, you are not a threat, you can learn the insides, the people you need to be in good graces with,” López said.


She encouraged everyone to call their local representatives and ask how they did it. Volunteer in roles that have decision-making power, such as event planning. “Get into a lead decision maker’s ears, that is the key,” she said.


López, defeated a 13-year incumbent by more than 43,000 votes in 2004. She has been a loud voice advocating for more Latino/a inclusion and visibility in local politics, and education boards. López said she has the power to and will appoint any qualified Latina perfect for the job and dismisses sly jokes that her office is becoming ‘too brown’.


“Figure out what you are—a Republican or a Democrat—and just some advice,… do not run as an Independent,… they do not win elections,” López said. She wants more Latinas to run for elected positions in Ohio, “As long as she doesn’t run against me, because she’s going down,” López joked.


Lilleana Calderón-Cavanaugh is the Program Director for Ohio’s Office of Latino Affairs. Describing it as a switchboard to access about everything Latino-related for the scattered Ohio Latinos and the greater community, Calderón-Cavanaugh said she was overwhelmed with vast resources when she first stated.


“I rely on my network to keep me connected, and informed,” she said. Calderón-Cavanaugh encourages being strategic about networking, knowing the various levels of givers and takers, and having a multidimensional group, “Your network equals empowerment,” she said. 


Networks are not just for career advancement but also for personal support, especially, “working through the guilt trips of balancing family needs,” Calderón-Cavanaugh said. Her map to success has four road makers: be informed, know your goal, surround yourself with people who share common values, and be visibly engaged in the community. “Have realistic expectations,” she said, adding a strong network also cushions the blows when idealistic notions are challenged.


Omayra Feliciano was appointed by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, as Interim Director of Consumer Affairs for the City of Cleveland. “We need to be in tune with our youth, locally and nationally; we can make a difference but we need to be there for each other,” she said.


Feliciano said her family stressed the importance of education and always talked about tough realities and challenges. “My father was very direct and didn’t sugar coat anything,” she said, signifying the importance of strong role model for Latinas.


“Support is crucial, not everyone will be happy for you,” she said.  Feliciano applauded Raquel Fuentes—an honor student at Success Tech Academy and owner of “Comida Sabroza Restaurant in Cleveland—for honoring her family values and the importance of education.


“In our household, conversations started with ‘when you go to college’,” said Fuentes. She feels the community she lives in doesn’t value education but she strives to overcome the challenges.


Featured participants also included: Blanche Aviles-Casey, Colonel U.S.A.F. (retired), and moderator Andradia Scovil, Program Coordinator, Civic Innovation Lab.









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