Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month
Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized from September 15th to October 15th. Hispanic Heritage Month was established to celebrate the incredible contributions of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the AFP Greater Madison Chapter sat down for a conversation with Baltazar De Anda Santana, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, Inc.
Can you provide an overview about your organization, the work you do, and the people you serve?
Baltazar: I had the opportunity to be one of the Co-Founders of the Latino Academy of Workforce Development back in 2011. Initially, the organization started as a program as part of the Vera Court Neighborhood Center. For ten years, we were a program within the community center, and we were actually their largest program. In 2021, our organization was able to become independent as our own non-profit organization.
As part of this independence, we’ve had to re-work our identity a little bit. One of the things we did was creating a new mission of strengthening our diverse communities by providing linguistically and culturally competent adult education programming that provides opportunities to ensure that individuals and families thrive socially, economically, and civically.
I think our mission makes us a little different from other organizations when it comes to providing that education, economic stability, and workforce development that will support our overall community. At Latino Academy, we do not help people find a job, we are a career development organization. We want to help people start a career in a specific field (e.g., transportation, IT, child development) and help to make a world where there is an opportunity for everyone to reach their full socioeconomic potential. We are in the business of supporting our community members, for them to have economic stability and advance financially.
How large is the population that you serve?
Baltazar: When we started in 2011, we had a class of 24 participants. Then, in 2019 this population grew to 800 participants. In 2021, we were able to serve more than 2,200 participants!
The need is such that we have continued to expand our services and we have experienced growth for the organization overall. We have 7 full-time employees, several part-time employees, and instructors. The instructors teach classes such as English as a second language, GED, computer literacy, and financial literacy. We also have other components such as leadership and wellness, bilingual leadership academy, nutrition class, mindfulness, and mentorship. All of these classes support our workforce tracks and help to lead them to a career opportunity.
The work with our students, or as we say our family, is not linear. They may take a course for a year and then need to come back after some time. It’s different for everyone.
What is the importance of investing in the Latinx community and ensuring everyone has a seat at the table?
Baltazar: There is a concept out there that I like to use is the “untapped workforce”. With all the issues surrounding employment and lack of employees, one thing we have forgotten is to invest in these folks who have not had the opportunity to work in an industry other than the one they started in. Our Latinx community has been in the city of Madison for more than 40 years and we’re present in the restaurant industry, the cleaning industry, and the landscaping industry, but one thing that hasn’t happened is the community has not invested in other areas like transportation, manufacturing, or IT. We are workforce that is ready to be tapped and ready to be included to these other areas.
I think of a story from when I graduated from UW-Whitewater, with Summa Cum Lade honors, my teacher came up to me and asked if I was going to open a landscaping business. Now, there is nothing wrong with landscaping, but that’s not for me! I’m going to open a graphic design business because I just finished a degree in Multimedia arts.
People see a Mexican and think “what kitchen are they working in?” We see a Latino woman and ask “what hotel does she work for?” Those are great professions, but the Latinx community needs to have the opportunities in other sectors and be viewed as equals on the playing field. There needs to be an investment into our communities so that we can provide value to the community as a whole.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you and your organization?
I always joke with my husband, as a gay Latino, I get two months of celebration (June – Pride Month and September / October – Hispanic Heritage Month)! No, but I do think that Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity for us to celebrate the Hispanic culture and put the work members of our community are accomplishing out there. We can change the mentality the larger community has about folks that look like me and the people we serve. It would be wonderful to have these celebrations of our culture happen all year, but the month is great.
At the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, we like to showcase our students through social media during this time. We want to provide our students a platform where they can represent themselves. We’re also putting together a Friend-raiser on October 5th, where people will be invited to come and celebrate what the Latinx community has done to advancing the workforce. This also gives an opportunity for people who don’t know the academy to come and learn what we do.
What can community members support the Latinx community during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond?
One way to support is advocating for the Latinx community and being allies to the larger community. If you can volunteer, learn about the issues facing the Latinx community / the work being done, and serve as a connector to help find new opportunities for members of the Latinx community. We need to continue bringing people together and uplifting each other to make a better community as a whole.
Thank you to Baltazar De Anda Santana for sharing such wonderful insights about the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, Inc., and ways for the community to uplift the Latinx community, during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond. If you are interested in getting involved, you can visit the Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s website!