The 2020 U.S. Presidential election has pushed Americans to grapple with American history and the inherent injustices and exclusionary institutional policies that are the foundation of any country that abandons moral grounds to protect the self-righteous stance of exceptionalism. By now, we are becoming familiar with the term institutional racism. As an educator, I have found no better proof of historic exclusion on the basis or race, religion, and gender than in U.S. colleges and universities. Harvard University was founded in 1636 by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Like the U.S. Constitution, which would be written over 150 years later in 1787, it was built by and for white, protestant men from social and financial means.
Governance in the U.S. feverishly defended its founding on the narrow definition of what constituted a citizen worthy of freedom, the vote, education, and domain over their bodies. It denied the most basic of rights and access to a formal college education to women, the indigenous, and Black population that built its economy, and anyone who lacked the public societal norms associated with Christian Protestant religious beliefs, and the influence that came with wealth and land ownership.
Today, many of the same colleges and universities that held on to exclusionary admissions in the name of protecting the quality of education are looking for ways to address their history of exclusion and marginalization of students from communities that are not just growing in size and continue to demand a seat at all tables, especially those where opportunity, economic stability, and power are served. The election has also pointed out that over half of the nation is at least conscious of the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion and the negative effects therein, it has also highlighted that no group of people in the U.S. is monolithic. We don’t fit in boxes. For so many historically under-represented graduates of these colleges, the call to open the doors of these colleges and create greater economic opportunities is key to the nation’s prosperity. This isn’t a charity case, it is an opportunity for all to thrive.
During a recent conversation with Ilse Calderon, a Stanford University graduate C’16, who has been working at OVO, a pre-seed venture capital firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was introduced to the term hypercultural Latinx. I can’t think of a better term and lens to appreciate this growing, and ethnically diverse portion of the U.S. population, the electorate and future college freshmen and graduates.
Calderon coined the term Hypercultural Latinx to help her, and others, shed a light on a massive population often overlooked by marketing dollars and American culture, U.S. Latinx youth. She wanted to focus on young Latinx, who are probably Gen Z or millennials, because they represent the future of America. Currently, the average U.S. Latinx is 28 years old, while the average Caucasian is 42 years old.
As a young venture capitalist with an eye on growth through strategic targeting, Calderon reminds us that by 2050, the Latinx population is expected to grow by 86%. Like so many, she sees the challenges of 2020 have provided us the opportunity to grasp the fragility of the economy and stand the test of instability. For Calderon, growing up in the U.S. taught her what happens when you undervalue communities. She says “2020 feels like it’s one disaster after another. While there are some we can’t necessarily control (eg: hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or Fires in California), there are other disasters we can more easily control. One of these disasters is unequal treatment of minorities, which is one reason it has been so hard for non-whites to move up socioeconomic classes in the United States. We need to get closer to equality of opportunity.”
Since my discussion with Ms. Calderon about a month ago, which translates to a lifetime for anyone following the election, the term hypercultural Latinx has become the perfect lens in identifying the power of one of the youngest and fastest growing groups in the U.S. population. Calderon mentions, “America prides itself on being a melting pot of different cultures and people. As of 2017, we represent nearly 1 out of every 5 U.S. people. That means 20% of the U.S. population is living a bicultural lifestyle and most of corporate and political America doesn’t take our needs, solutions, nor degrees earned seriously. For example, legacy brands still fail to properly target U.S Latinx. Also, even though 70% more Latinx students are earning university degrees than last decade, the gap between Latinx and white unemployment rate is greater than ever—even in pre-COVID19 times.”
Like her parents, Calderon understands that diversity is the most valuable dish at the table. “I want to make something clear—we are not a charity case. Endless research has proven that diverse teams achieve more. Essentially, hiring Latinos (as well as other under-represented workers), would likely mean more profits for companies small and large. A HBR case proves hiring diverse teams is a good business decision. It’s frustrating to see online commentary showcase companies using the Latinx card as a way to only garnish good publicity. We don’t want saviors, we want colleagues whom we can build a better America (for everyone) alongside.”
Let’s consider Ms. Calderon’s own journey. Ms. Calderon is a first-generation, Mexican-American, who spent most of her childhood living in different Mexican cities. Her parents decided living in the U.S. was key to their children pursuing higher education, and they moved to Houston permanently when she was eight-years old. As is common with immigrant parents, education was considered the most important achievement in her family. Calderon’s family is no different from many families of marginalized groups that like their privileged counterparts want their children to achieve more than they had.
While at Stanford University, in one of the most selective institutions in the U.S., Ilse Calderon was able to bring her full self to the table and with that came all of her talents, experiences and the opportunity to put them to the test. So why venture capital? She notes, “To be honest, I didn’t even know what the venture industry was until my sophomore year at Stanford University when I took a class on ‘entrepreneurial communication’. It was actually the founder side that first sparked my interest. I mean, growing up, I had always had a knack for entrepreneurial activities such as selling China-imported bracelets to my community in Texas or running an inflatable moonwalk business in high school. Then, in college, a couple of my peers and I worked on a start-up idea that went on to get angel funding (although it ultimately went nowhere). This was my first experience talking to venture investors and getting a sense of what that community was like (as an outsider). At the time, I was fascinated with how bullish investors were on their point of views about a myriad of different industries. I was intrigued with how effortlessly investors coupled seemingly different ideas to create unique perspectives on trends and sectors that somehow wavered the line of crazy and genius. Yet, at the same time, I was intimidated with how insular and relationship-driven the industry felt.”
Calderon’s story is one that we can all learn from. This election has increased the value of the Latino electorate. The country can no longer deny that we owe the best definition of democracy to the African-American community, especially Black women voters. Colleges and universities also need to redefine what makes a student exceptional and worthy of admissions and support in the institutions that built their class roles little to no interest in diversity, equality, equity or inclusion.
It is time to see our communities of color, our Latino population for their hypercultural contributions. Include us in your strategic meetings, your DEI initiatives, your customer and student appreciation days. Celebrate beyond African Heritage and Hispanic Heritage Month. As Calderon writes, “a hypercultural lens has become my dinner table discussion, my weekly Monday meeting rant, and my night time thoughts. When thinking about what I wanted to spend a good chunk of my time researching and thinking about, nothing felt more natural than my community: U.S. Latinos.”
For Calderon, American culture is still far from achieving full inclusion of all minorities. She tells us “I believe there are social movements taking place right now that allow for the right conversations to at least begin taking place. For example, I think the widespread nature of Black Lives Matter was meaningful not just for African Americans; but, for all minorities who have always lived on the fringes of American society. I’m hopeful these conversations will eventually lead to more action.”
As Calderon looks for investments, she searches for companies that target the hypercultural Latinx community. They value and understand that their innovative ideas and talent merit venture dollars. She describes them as a ‘whitespace opportunity’ most investors are turning a blind eye to and hopes to be there for these founders who are truly investing in the Latinx population.
She notes, “I want to live in a society more of us can collectively be proud of and to me, that means paying attention to growing populations within mainstream America. Use your Latinx customs, values, and culture to guide you in achieving more than the previous generations. Earlier I mentioned how venture investors thrive on sticking to their points of views and opinions. Well, in a similar manner, the U.S. Latinx youth can thrive by using their own lived experiences to build bullish opinions that can help them rise in their respective industries. Don’t forget, we as Latinos are known to be people of resiliency. That is an amazing trait to have regardless of whether you are a founder, investor, educator, or community member”.
The 2020 U.S. presidential election has made Latinos, African-Americans and Indigenous people ever present in the conscience of the nation. Each time a vote was counted, the nation seemed to hold on to the group’s racial and ethnic background as a signal for who the next president would be. The presence and influence of the Latino community in the U.S. can no longer be relegated to a month. The common cultural appreciation events, usually featuring food and music, held during Hispanic Heritage and Black History months are not enough. Celebrate diverse communities by admitting more of their students, hiring more of their graduates, and paying them fairly, and investing capital in their ventures. As with Ilse Calderon, the returns are invaluable.
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