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By Yadira Betances | Yadira@elmundoboston.com
CAMBRIDGE, MA. — A group of well-educated and successful Hispanic women discussed the disparities among Latinas focusing on the wealth gap, homeownership, and economic security.
The issues were brought up during the Latinas Think Big forum at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University on April 12. Latinas Think Big is a global network and innovative platform aimed at supporting and advancing careers and ventures by women.
Ana Patricia Múñoz, director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said many people blame the victims without considering policies such as slavery, red lining where banks did not offer loans to residents in certain neighborhoods as well as institutional racism.
“The New Deal aimed at creating a middle class with homeownership and education, was mainly available to whites and the investment of public money excluded many people,” Munoz said.
“Education is not the great equalizer that people think it is,” she added. “Education is essential but it’s not enough if you don’t take care of the discrepancies. Education is still important because is what helps people become upwardly mobile,” Munoz said adding African Americans with a bachelor’s degree or higher are less wealthy than whites who have dropped out.
“This is a complex problem that needs a solution,” she said. “How can we remedy that? We need policies.”
Among her suggestions is to provide seed money to every child. “If every family had seed money it would matter because it helps in other areas as well,” Munoz said.
A panel discussion followed Munoz’ remarks where participants spoke about the need for more Latinas to buy their own homes, advocate for universal prekindergarten, find ways to get benefits and retirement for low paying workers and helping future business owners get loans, grants to keep their business afloat.
Betty Francisco, founder and president of FitNation Ventures said most people rely on family members to get loans for their investments.
“We need to help our own. We need to invest in those companies, create a social network where we can build and grow our political power become mentors to help those businesses grow,” Francisco said.
Angelica Perez Litwin, founder of Latinas Think Big, said Latinas should not stop there and break the glass ceiling by getting jobs at prestigious universities such as Harvard and companies like Google and Twitter.
“Why? Those companies need to see we’re capable and see us in leadership. You need to feel you belong here. That feeling of belonging is important,” Litwin said.
Chelsea City Councilor Judith Garcia noted only 20 percent of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans are homeowners.
“It sheds light to the problem we are facing,” Garcia said. “We have jobs that pay little, but also have the American dream of owning a home. The American mainstream is our mainstream,” Garcia said.
Panelists agree joining forces to help each other is key to success.
Nathalie Reyes, public relations director at Salinas Group if you hear of a job opening or a company is looking for a board member recommend someone you know.
“If you don’t do it we’ll lose that seat at that table. It’s important to join boards because you’re creating a network,” Reyes said.
Others said contacting local officials, legislators, senators and congressmen when it comes to advocating issues like the gap in pay, getting better education and building affordable home for low and middle income families and offering tax incentives to families who want to buy their own homes.
“When a door closes, I open it and when there is a platform that needs addressing, I create it for the world to see the work Latinas are doing and the contributions they are making to this country,” Litwin said.
Teresa Recoy of Somerville was among the women who attended.
“By having these forums, what we’re trying to do is getting the conversation going and knowing the importance of having committed and educated women capable of doing whatever it takes to make changes,” said Recoy who works at the Federal ReserveBank of Boston.
Other participants included Vanessa Calderon Rosado, chief executive officer of Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion; Monica Ramirez, director of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, Erika Carlsen, program manager o the Gleitsman Fellowship and Latino Initiative at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School and Marcela Garcia, editorial writer at Boston Globe.