Culturally proficient outreach efforts help create equitable pathways for community members to become community leaders.
At Language Testing International, we have seen many esteemed community leaders and elected officials utilize their language proficiency skills in their communication and outreach efforts. When combined with integrity, cultural competency, and authentic respect for the communities they are engaging, their dual- or multi-language skillsets continually prove to be valuable assets for these individuals and the members of the communities they serve.
Unfortunately, many marginalized communities are not as engaged as they could be during the most pivotal moments, such as elections. Oftentimes, language and cultural obstacles stand between them and the candidates for office they need to choose, and they cannot fully engage in the electoral processes that directly affect them. Lack of voice often leads to a lack of fair and/or adequate representation for the needs and wellbeing of those marginalized communities.
So, how do we, as a democracy, change that?
In some of these instances, the best chance for real representation of marginalized communities is to have a few members from that community step up to be that representation. However, with all the uphill battles and inequities that marginalized communities statistically face, these efforts can be far more successful and equitable with outside help and support from others who have navigated these linguistically and culturally diverse spaces.
Someone who knows this first-hand is Marcos Vilar, who joined us on a recent episode of LTI’s “Language Is Your Superpower” podcast. “Civic engagement is one of the most important things in a democracy, when we want to make sure that all of our needs as members of a society have an equal place, and an equal voice, and an equal opportunity to have the benefits of our government,” said Marcos. “We all pay taxes. We should all have a little bit of a say, and a way to say how those taxes should be used. And that’s what I think makes this country so unique and so attractive to so many people from around the world. And when we’re talking about around the world, we’re talking about languages, right?”
Marcos Vilar was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the mainland United States at the age of 14. Today, he runs Vilar Strategies, a public relations consulting practice in Orlando, FL which serves clients in strategic planning, legislative and advocacy campaigns, issue campaigns, electoral campaigns, and not-for-profit organizational development and management. Vilar led major efforts to activate Latino civic engagement at a national and local level, creating a coalition of organizations working together to increase Latino civic participation in key states.
In his work as the Executive Director for ALIANZA, Marcos “seeks to unite the Hispanic population in the state of Florida and develop leaders from within the community.” He helps identify individuals within Hispanic communities who are engaged and motivated to become the voice of and for their people. He spoke to LTI about two selfless community members, Johanna Lopez, an Orange County Public Schools Board Member, and Maribel Cordero, the Orange County Commissioner, about their inspiring stories and how he supported them in their efforts to rise to the prominent positions they now hold in Orange County, FL.
The power of language allowed these leaders to skillfully navigate and communicate in large Hispanic communities in both English and Spanish during their campaigns, broadening their audience of prospective voters. Marcos took it upon himself to lead outreach efforts to support these two women. They care deeply about their local Puerto Rican community in Central Florida and decided to become leaders in the local Hispanic community at large. They created platforms that provide an opportunity for them to represent and advocate for their neighbors in an impactful way.
“Our work in ALIANZA is identifying people like them,” Marcos Vilar said. “And there’s [sic] people like them in all walks of life, right? These are like super activists, people who give themselves to the community, who really take their role [seriously]… I think they are legacy people, who live life because they came here for a purpose, right? And they understand that life has purpose with it. And so, I think there’s a lot of folks like that in our community. And sadly, sometimes there’s not an opportunity or there’s not the light shining on all the people who are like that in our community.”
Vilar noted that “there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands of stories like [Johanna’s and Maribel’s] out there, probably even tens of thousands of stories like theirs out there in the community of people who are doing things. We don’t know them all. We seek them, we find some of them, and with the ones that we find, we try to build better, and we try to build for the future in any area.”
It takes all our participation to make sure everyone has a fair shot at exercising their leadership. So, who are the hidden bilingual gems in your community, or in your company or department? Have you engaged with and supported them? Who can you help be an advocate and help guide toward and through more equitable pathways to success? If language and/or cultural barriers exist, how can you help bridge that gap, and bring everyone to the table to expand your audiences?
Listen to Marcos’s story on our most recent podcast.