Ms. López spoke to nearly 40 members of UT’s Latino Student Union (LSU), telling them to focus on their studies and finish a bachelor’s degree so they can be successful in a world where Latinos still struggle for acceptance. The county auditor once served as LSU president, during her UT undergraduate days pursuing a degree in political science.
“Right from my freshman year, I knew I wanted to get involved in government, get involved in public service,” said Ms. López. “Most important, though, was staying focused to finish my bachelor’s degree. It actually took me seven years to finish my bachelor’s degree. I spent a lot of time working and involved in LSU—many times to the point where I was not as focused as I should have been on my academics.”
But the Lucas County auditor told the audience that the most important thing they can do is not just enroll, “but complete their education.” She stated that is “still history being made” with the goal of it “being the norm” to see Latinos as finance officials, lawyers, physicians, “and the next president of the University of Toledo.”
“It starts right here with each and every one of you and making sure you’re truly focused on your academics,” she admonished.
The Lucas County auditor delivered an address full of advice and anecdotes—lessons she learned along the path to her professional life, as well as battles her and other Latino UT students fought on campus. Many LSU members—even 20 years after she graduated—regard Ms. López as a trailblazer, both on campus and in the community.
“This is very important to me, because I feel Anita López was in my shoes,” said Jacob Torres, LSU president. “I feel she made it very successful. She is who we want to be. She is our role model. That is who we strive to be and we’re glad to hear the steps she took to become successful. Her story is like many of ours. She created a path for us to follow.”
Ms. López related a story where LSU had to share an office with another group of students who heard appeals of parking tickets on campus. That led to a conflict between the two groups over the Latino students being themselves and expressing their heritage.
“We would be playing our music—our mariachis, our cumbias—and speaking in Spanish,” she said. “These guys were getting really upset with us. There was an opening in the divider and they said ‘you need to stop speaking whatever language that is. We’re in America.’ I got mad and got a little hoot in me and decided no one should talk to us that way and tell us we cannot speak Spanish.”
Ms. López told the group she then researched how rooms were assigned to student groups. After finding out organizations had to apply for more space, she and other LSU members appealed and got the whole office to themselves to end the tension.
“But even now, they’re telling us we shouldn’t speak Spanish. A few years ago there was the debate about English-only. There’s still the debate over immigration,” she said. “So, really, how far have we really come? How many students do you know that never completed their freshman year, dropped out as a sophomore, and never finished their education? We still have that fight before us on campus. We still have those challenges.”
“We are in a path where most Latinos stop and that’s what we need to change,” said Torres. “We need to continue the route to success and …use it wisely in order to become successful.”
The Lucas County auditor explained to the LSU students that her talk was meant to motivate them—because as competitive as the professional world is today, “there are still too few of us competing.” She challenged them that even if they have set high goals for themselves, to “set them even higher.”
Ms. López explained that even though her attempt to run for Toledo mayor was not successful, she “set the tone” for city services to improve. She told the UT students her motive to run came from her belief that her hometown was headed in the wrong direction.
“If someone isn’t willing to step up and say ‘I’m willing to put everything on the line,’ then there’s no competition in the world,” she said. “If you’re not willing to put your name on the line, to risk it—then it’s so much easier for everyone else to just remain status quo and not bring their ‘A’ game.”
The Lucas County auditor stated her other purpose behind her mayoral campaign was to encourage other Latinos “to step up” instead of “sitting on the sidelines” where local problems are concerned.
“If we don’t get involved in government or in leadership positions, then we’re just as much the problem,” she said. “Even though I didn’t win mayor, the fact is I think that people are doing a better job at the city because they were in fear of me getting hold of that office and they realized they had to improve the services.”
Ms. López pointed out that “nearly 75 percent of the citizens voted for someone else” instead of an incumbent mayor. “That tells you that the mayor has a problem,” she said. “We sent a very strong message.”
“We were about 300 votes shy of getting through the primary. Those are 300 votes; we will not be short the next time,” Ms. López said to applause from the students.
The Lucas County auditor also told the UT students to always be true to themselves, no matter what challenges they may face personally or professionally.
“For me, that means being that feisty Latina who will never know her place,” she said to much laughter from the audience. “That same person who went to Dr. Horton to complain about the Hispanic dropout rate on campus and tell him in a respectful way he wasn’t doing his job is the same person who ran for mayor.”
One example Ms. López gave of being true to who she is involves maintaining long, black hair.
“I never want anyone to think I’m trying to blend in. When I walk into a room, I want them to know I’m mexicana,” she said. “I don’t want to look like every other female elected official who cut their hair short and tried to look somewhat like a man. I want to look like a Latino who’s intelligent and capable of running an office. It brings me pride and it’s my way of rebelling a little bit.”
Ms. López stated it was “nice to finally be in a position” where she “could look out for all individuals with respect and dignity.” She told the group that included attempting to reach back and hire a diverse workforce, including young Latinos with talent. She encouraged them to network, find mentors, and seek out Latinos of influence.
“This is where it starts—using people in positions of influence to help get you in the door,” Ms. López advised the audience. “It’s about whom you know and a great GPA. If you don’t have the GPA, then it’s about personality and connections.”
Michele Martínez, UT dean of students, also informed the audience that the university is trying to activate a Latino alumni affiliate to help students along in the professional world through internships, mentoring, and job interviews. She said the effort would begin soon.
“We’re still the big fish in a little pond, because there are still few Latinos who have their degrees and their education,” echoed Ms. López. “So when you walk through a door—to be competitive, to be Latino and to have a degree, you’re still unique. That’s sad to say, but use it to your advantage. But you’re not going to get the job just because you’re Latino anymore. You’re going to have to perform.”
Ms. López offered to collect the résumés of talented UT Latino students in order to help them along their professional paths. She pointed out that she has already hired two UT Latino graduates at the auditor’s office: human resources/labor director Ursula Barrera Richards and Carlos Ruiz, a former LSU president and finance professional she admittedly “stole” from Lucas County Job and Family Services with the promise of a better salary. He has worked his way up from budget analyst at JFS to assistant chief deputy auditor since his hire last March.
“She already walked the path, so we know her advice will carry with me,” said Torres, a UT junior majoring in communications. “I know she’s already created the path we can follow. For us to become leaders on campus or in the community, we need to listen to her. She’s very respected in our organization. She did so much for our organization and she helped cultivate the Latino culture on our campus and we respect her for that.”
Hispanic Heritage Month traditionally runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 each year, celebrating the independence of México [Sept. 16] and other Latin American countries.
“Hispanic Heritage Month, to me, resembles my organization,” said Torres. “LSU is a very diverse organization—our members are from different countries. This is a way for them to celebrate their freedom and independence from Spain.”