PNT Photo: Kevin Wilson
Eastern New Mexico University senior Diego Espinoza speaks during Friday's Latino Leadership Summit. Espinoza, an Hispanic, is part of the nation's largest minority.
Picture a resume coming across a supervisor’s desk. The job applicant is on his school’s honor roll, is a member of the school’s track team, serves on the school’s board of regents, created a leadership summit, founded a fraternity and served as the fraternity president.
Overall, it sounds like any supervisor would jump at the chance to hire this person. That’s the resume of Eastern New Mexico University senior Diego Espinoza. When he gets out of college — after pursuing his master’s and doctorate degrees — he’ll find out whether being Hispanic will serve as an advantage or a disadvantage in the U.S. job market.
Espinoza is part of the fastest-growing ethnic group in America. The Census Bureau reported in 2003 Hispanics had passed blacks as the nation’s largest minority.
From near and far, Hispanics surveyed said that biases do exist from time to time, but it was never enough to keep them from a position for which they were qualified.
“Because of the career that I chose and the fact I was going into bilingual education, I had no problem,” said David Briseno, the federal program director for Clovis Schools. “To deny that (a glass ceiling for Latinos) exists would be disrespectful to Latinos, though.”
Briseno has worked his way up through the system at Clovis Schools, starting as a second-grade teacher and was recently a principal at La Casita School in Clovis. Throughout, he’s worked with the school and its bilingual programs.
On a more national level, Agustine Garcia said it’s easy to find discrimination against Hispanics given the right circumstances. Garcia is the founder of the Lambda Theta Phi Latin Franternity. He tells a story of how he’ll tell people to call him “Gus,” and they’ll say negative things about Latinos and Hispanics without realizing he is one.
Garcia doesn’t believe that bias will ever disappear, but he said the job market is caring about only one color — the color of money.
“The dollar is green. It’s not brown, it’s not yellow, it’s not orange. It’s green.”
Garcia said that his wife, who only speaks Spanish, shopped at a department store in Miami for years and spent nearly $500 a month. Florida passed an “English only” law and the same clerks his wife had dealt with for years were suddenly not allowed to speak Spanish to her. His wife took her business elsewhere, Garcia said, and the department store called to ask why she no longer shopped there. She told them why.
Garcia laughed and said it wasn’t very long before clerks were allowed to speak Spanish to his wife again.
It boils down to a simple philosophy, Garcia said: Need makes change. Garcia said as the buying power of the Hispanic grows, the successful corporations will be the ones that appeal to the market.
“Why do you think there are (so many) Spanish television stations?” Garcia asked. “It’s not because anybody wanted to do that, it’s because advertising needed it.”
As the needs change on a national scale, they do filter down to Hispanics. Espinoza said when he first came to ENMU, his main goals were to be a teacher and a coach.
“All I knew before I came to college was how to run (track),” he said. “I came to college because I had the ability to run.”
Now, when he finishes college, he aims to be a national director for a youth group or a national consultant like Garcia.
But Garcia cautions that for Espinoza and others, being Hispanic isn’t enough to work for a company that is trying to grab a share of the Hispanic buying power. Candidates also need to be qualified. When he says he needs a bi-lingual employee, he means they’re just as comfortable in either English or Spanish.
“(Some people I’ve hired) can speak it, but they couldn’t write a letter,” Garcia said. “Corporate America is not going to be satisfied finding somebody who can give them half.”
That’s the same message Richard Rivera tries to give students as well. Rivera has been working in television production for 25 years, the last 15 with KENW at ENMU. Rivera said he has not been a target of discrimination.
“I can only speak for myself, but the jobs I’ve gone for, I’ve got, so it’s not an obstacle,” Rivera said. “However, I’m sure if it was an obstacle, I wouldn’t have known it.”
Hispanic or not, Rivera tells communications students getting a job is about filling needs.
“You have to fill the employer’s needs. If you can find the employer’s needs and fill them, you’re hired. Everyone has needs.”
Future employees also have needs. Espinoza’s is to prove people wrong.
“There’s always going to be hypocrites, there’s always going to be ignorant people,” Espinoza said. “There’s still people who try to tell you you can’t do this, you can’t do that. And now, I do it just to prove everybody wrong.”