"Hispanics Ready for the Millennium"

Social Security Admininstraion National Conference


Giselle Fernandez,
Business Woman
Television Broadcaster

July 1, 1999



Good morning everyone. What a pleasure to be here with you today to share in your national conference in one of my favorite cities of the world.

I am particularly thrilled to see so many Latinas in whose capable hands the Social Security of this country is so well placed.

I must tell you, I look out among you and feel such pride in all that we represent on the threshold of a new millennium.

I am not only proud of our rich and thriving heritage, I am particularly proud to be Latina on the brink of a new era that holds so much promise for us all if we understand and take full advantage of the powerful and prosperous times and diverse roles we are stepping into.

I love the theme of this year's conference. Hispanics ready for the millennium. Cuz ready or not, here we come.

But how wonderful to be ready and to use wisely the power we possess.

When I was asked to address you today -- the organizers made clear I should come to inspire you with the experiences of my journey and the promise I believe lays before us from my vantage point as a business woman, producer and television broadcaster.

I was thrilled to come... It is thee easiest of assignments because it's a message I believe in whole-heartedly ... one born of a great passion and fierce knowing within me.

What I know is that our time to seize life and fulfill our vision is right now -- we have a chance to really fulfill our dreams ... and the dreams we envision for how this country and our lives should be shaped in the century ahead.

We have that much power like never before ... if we seize it.


Well for one, we will be the largest ethnic minority in the country by the year 2005. Our numbers alone reflect the sheer force of our emerging presence -- economically, politically, socially...

Latinas in particular are finishing school ahead of Latin males and more than five million of us already make up the U.S. work force ... many of us shattering old stereotypes by reaching into high offices.

For the first time, we're ready to meet opportunity head on. And the opportunity abounds as the millennium opens up to Latins as never before.

All we need to do is look to pop culture to see the trends before us.

Ricky Martin is a sign post ahead for what it will be like for Hispanics living the Vida Loca in the new millennium. But Gloria Estephan is even more telling. Her long lasting 170-million dollar empire is ever expanding as she reigns as both super star as well as promoter of up and coming new Latin latent like the super singer Shakira.

From pop culture to politics -- there are already more Latinas and women in general holding more high offices at all levels of government than ever before. Nationally ... we've got women to watch!

1. Maria Echaveste ... White House Director of Public Liason -- has incredible access to the President influencing his view on standardized college entrance exams and the elimination of sweat shop companies.

2. Aida Alvarez ... heads the Small Business Administration -- she is one of Clinton's few second term Hispanic Cabinet appointments. She has direct say in issues of importance to the Hispanic community.

And of course ...

3. Linda Chavez Thompson ... the Executive Vice President of the AFL CIO -- she is the first Hispanic to be on the executive board and is intent on challenging racial and economic discrimination.

How terrific that these Latina women are rising in ranks of National prominence. We have so many concerns to be addressed in our communities, for our families ... and socially ... the immigrant backlash is bringing English Only legislation all over the place ... denial of Federal benefits to legal immigrants is a major issue and the elimination of affirmative action admission programs in Texas and California are top of mind. We have women to watch in high places now to look out for our best interests.

It's the same impressive movement in business -- corporate and private -- already there are more Latinas and women in general securing higher positions in corporate America and in private business than ever before making the same kinds of huge contributions...

Have you heard of:

Ann Marie Wheelock is one of the highest ranking Latinas in the field of philanthropy. She was recently named Exec. VP and Chief Operation Officer of the Fannie Mae Foundation which has six Latina directors and provides an emergency elder care voucher program to its employees under her leadership.

Astrid Autolitano is the President of Mattel International and also is one of the highest ranking Latinas in corporate America. On site child care facility and flexible work at home opportunities make Mattel a Latina influenced business under Autolitano's reign.

Ryder System Inc. is one of the few Fortune 1000 Companies with a Latina President of a division. Ofelia San Pedro is the President of Redo Ryders Energy Division as well as the Vice President of Global Procurement. To their Latina employees Ryder offers on site child care and flextime compressed work weeks all under her leadership.

Chirsty Haubegger ... in 1996 at the age of 27 launched Latina Magazine -- she was right on when she said there needs to be a woman's bilingual magazine that appeals to women who juggle two cultures and two languages.

These women are making a huge difference ... they are beacons of hope and inspiration to all we have to offer as well.

The millennial in-roads politically, economically are profound and promising and exciting.

While TV and film still do not reflect the best of our talent or our buying power. Yet ... we do have Salma and Jennifer building empires in Hollywood and providing new role models for our young girls.

And our young girls need to see themselves in prosperous inspiring roles in the arts ... they need those images. Those mentors. That dream.

Role models are there and thriving. Let's concentrate on our successes ... Gloria Estephan, Thalia Albita, Rita Moreno and Carmen Esperanza and Liz Torrez are the queens. They still are cutting a wide new path for the amazing millennial talent about to take center stage in the countdown to two-thousand.

From salsa to marengue to rock in Espanol to the Cuban sound of the Caribbean to mariachi music .. our cultural vibrancy is about to explode in this country like never before, introducing all to the very best of our culture and heritage.

And who better than we Latinas know how to move to the beat of all the Latin heat?

It's our music. It's our time.

There are so many opportunities. So many sign posts ... there are more Latina magazines on news stands than ever before. Joining Latina, Latin Style and Hispanic Business ... now we add Latin Bride making its debut.


We are the fastest growing economic buying force in the country and that alone spells power.

Latinas pay a huge attention to style and fashion. We love to shop and are very keen on the trends of the day.

We are stylish in dress, in our homes ... we are passionate about our families, our children, our lives.

As a result, we are great consumers -- from make up to diapers to groceries to clothes to movie tickets to CD's .. we represent the millennial buyer, not to mention the millennial mom with a tight grip on our kids -- we have a devotion to family to no others ... and believe me ... the nations's top advertisers, manufacturers and visionaries from the Internet to the TV set to type set pages in magazines want your dollars and your sense of things. That is power.

Don't get me wrong, we still don't have the kind of representation in all fields we will have. But I am focusing today on the great strides, inroads and power base we are building ...

Because by concentrating on that ... we can expand on that power -- build on it and then with grit and grace ... wield it wisely.

Women and minority representation in board rooms to the halls of Congress ... to classrooms to the movie studios to offices of Social Security all over the country.

All are critical if we are to be the kind of mothers, daughters, sisters and matriarchs, creators and business mavericks of a powerful and diverse Nation that we are called on to be.

Today I celebrate the big names among us in lights or high office. They hold our future in their hands. We should know who they are, celebrate them and don't forget to hold them accountable. That is our responsibility.

They bare a great burden to find ways to keep our kids in schools, cut down our drop out rate ... put computers in our classrooms so we can compete ... improve the quality of health care in our communities and eradicate the kinds of discrimination we still face because we're brown.

We have a serious problem with getting Latinas to see gynecologists for Pap Smears and specialists for mamograms. When they do we often have problems with receiving quality screenings.

For what ever the reasons, our young girls are being diagnosed with cervical cancer and dying of this highly curable and detectable disease more than any other ethnic group.

Where is the research to find out why? Where is the education to turn things around and save lives?

This is just one of the major kinds of issues we are heavily relying on our Latin leaders to tackle for us in the new century. Their representation is crucial.

But this morning ... my focus is not on their work. My focus is on yours. Today ... it's all about you.

This morning I want to concentrate on the power each of us has in this room to make a difference in a major way to better our lives and the lives of an entire Nation in the millennium ahead.

I believe in dreaming big and doing big things ... fulfilling our calling, your mission, each of us has one ... infused by God in this lifetime ...

No matter how small we believe we are -- I believe big things are expected of each and every one of us.

I come from nothing -- no money, no big family empire, no ivy league education. I was born in Mexico to a flamenco dancer father and an American mother who fell in love with his sapatiazo.

I grew up in East Hollywood California and watched my dad dance and make no money ... I traveled throughout the bowels of Mexico with my mom and watched her collect fairy tales from the common people living in the most humble pueblos. It's from her that I was first inspired to be a reporter. It's from her that I first was inspired to dream big about wanting to tell the diverse stories of the world's people -- I wanted so to make a difference by somehow bringing my sense of humanity and respect for all cultures and ways of life into my interviews. That was my dream.

Through sheer force of will and desire I worked my way up the ladder of network news and traveled around the world from Somalia in East Africa to Bosnia to Cuba to Panama to the Gulf War in Israel covering national and international news for CBS and NBC. It was an adventure that changed my life and enriched me so.

Who would have thought a simple kid from a simple family could have such a journey of adventure and windows to worlds opened to her?

Well, I'll tell you. I did.

I succeeded because I never thought I could not.

No I was never that confident. I battled insecurities.

What I did have was an inherent belief that all was possible because I had a great faith that that was the Law of God and Nature.

So I have always believed that our desire ... our dream to be who we want to be no matter how grand our vision ... no matter what our circumstances. I have always believed achieving our highest goals were possible ... by simply believing it could be.

In this spirit ... I address you now.

Each of us has a special gift ... a mission ... a calling. It's in you. You may choose not to recognize it ... even to ignore or oppress it. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that each and every one of us was put on this earth to do something wonderful -- and unique to us.

I'm big on transformation my friends. On being transformational men and women.

I'm big on standing up with a warrior spirit to our silent demons that tell us we can't or we're not good enough or that the odds are too great or that we are too old to change, to learn to grow ... to make it now.

I'm big on conquering those demon voices in our heads ... fighting our insecurities and doubts ... and risking all to be bold to be who we are meant to be.

It's scary. I know first hand.

I'm now trying to launch a business after working for networks my whole career. But fear of failure can't be allowed to stop me or you. I have a dream of building my own production company and telling more in-depth stories about the brilliant people making such a difference in our world that never make the airwaves. I have such a need to be a conduit for these unseen heroes that quietly make such a difference.

But it's scary to try something new. It's scary to shed old beliefs about yourself and what you think you are capable of ... it's hard to risk and be bold to test what you've got.

But there is no other way.

To me the only real failure in life is not ... in trying and failing. Or making mistakes. It's in never attempting to fulfill your grandest potential.

Elizabeth Kubbler-Ross and a new maverick in the death and dying movement named Kathleen Singh ... both tell how thousands of their dying patients have one thing in common. All voice regrets in their final hours of not taking more risks ... not living life to the fullest ... of not being all they knew they could be.

I'm so inspired by what I call transformational women who become the most unlikely dynamos ... and mavericks ...

They make a difference in their small lives in big ways..

First off ... it's in your cellular history. Remember who you are and where you came from. It's there you will find courage. We women of the Americas come from great warrior brave stock.

Take the Mexican Revolution for example ... Yes there was Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata ... but there were also some daring dames who fought the good fight against the ruling classes when it counted.

The fighting soldaderas ... of 1910, the female freedom fighters ... Dolores Jimenz Yemuro -- outspoken, fearless and willing to risk everything for the sake of her country. Zapata named her a brigadier general and she was one of the key contributors to the framing of the Constitution.

Juana Belen Gutierrez de Mendoza -- a Colonel in the Revolution who not only fought on the front lines but started a newspaper called Vesper which became a central voice for the rebels and powerful voice for social order.

The bravest caretaker and one of the most famous soldaderas was Beatriz Gonzalez Ortega ... she was better known for her healing than fighting. She was a tireless nurse on the battlefield and often helped the wounded from both sides. She even defied the great Pancho Villa after one battle refusing to tell him which of her patients were from the other side since she knew that they would be executed. Even when she was whipped for doing so ... she never revealed the identity of the unlucky men.

These great warriors were graced with intense passion for their mother country ... showed immense integrity, grit, grace and sense of justice and fight for right in their pursuit of a better way ... these women are in our blood -- our spirit. If we as Latin women are stereotyped as fiery, yes we are ... not just sexually ... we have fuerza. It comes from our great warrior women in our history. If we are described as intense and loyal and creative and passionate, yes we are. Look at the women who paved the way and fought for freedom.

I am proud to be Latina and defy anyone to reduce or diminish us to sexual stereotypes because they are afraid of our immense force of our nature and the power we possess ...

You don't have to just look back to 1910 in Mexico's history to find heroines.

You'll appreciate this story of a young Totzil Mayan woman named Ramona from Chiapas ... in southern Mexico. Today she is the modern day maverick carrying on the torch -- a Mexican Joan of Arc if you will.

Perhaps you have heard of her.

In her mid-thirties ... she emerged from the jungles of Chiapas in southern Mexico in search of food and a better life after years of increasing neglect and unjust treatment from the Mexican government. After the implementation of NAFTA and lost subsidies for local farmers -- life and struggle got so tough ... she like so many were forced to the flatlands in search of work.

In that journey, she experienced an incredible awakening. A young woman who didn't even speak Spanish not only learned a new language ... but awakened to the politics of her people and became thee most unlikely revolutionary leader for indigenous women everywhere.

She is known as a Sweet Rebel Ramona and happens to be battling kidney cancer. Before she dies she has made clear in every speech ... in every writing ... that her dying wish is to secure better rights for Indian women in Mexico. Reproductive rights, better health care, land rights, the right to end the dowry system and hold those who abuse women accountable for their crimes.

She is four foot three inches tall ... and yet a giant of a woman who dons a mask and walks along side the infamous Zapatista leader Marcos in her call for justice and equality.

Who would have thought such a simple woman could make such a difference ... I'm told eight year old girls when asked what they want to be when they grow up answer ... "a rebel like Ramona."

No matter what your politics ... you have to be moved by the passion of a simple peasant woman who transformed herself and took up a heavy banner not only for herself but her people.

Hers is a small voice with a big message.

If she can make a difference from her simple, impoverished yet spirited corner of the world ... certainly each of us can awaken to our passion, calling -- become revolutionary in our capacity to change and make a difference.

Ramona sweet Ramona -- we can all learn from this maverick Mexicana.

There are others to be inspired by -- box breakers I call them. Who are not fighting on the front-lines ... but instead battle different kinds of challenges in their offices, shattering glass ceilings and archaic stereotypes that prevail on a daily basis by succeeding and thriving in their small corner of the world despite all.

1. Rebecca Lobo, for example -- Olympic basketball player and author of a book she wrote with her mother on battling breast cancer. She is a warrior.

2. Sandra Cisneros, who wrote The House on Mango Street ... all about growing up Latina in an Anglo world ... she won the 1996 MacArthur Genius Award ...(the Oscar for the cultural elite). What a powerhouse this maverick of literature is.

There are so many others ... and those yet to emerge.

Now understand...

Being maverick doesn't mean having to get your name in lights. Fulfilling your calling is maverick enough.

Maybe you have always wanted to open a business, a restaurant, design a line of clothing. Maybe you've always wanted to go back to school, get a degree, learn an instrument. Maybe you want to get a divorce but are afraid. Maybe your child wants to go away to school but you're afraid. Maybe you've always wanted to learn French or Japanese -- run for office. Open an artists studio. Maybe you have always wanted to help others, start a charity. Maybe you have a movie or book you have always wanted to write. Launch an Internet Web site ... invest in a stock, buy a bigger house.

These are maverick magic desires that are waiting within you to be born and nurtured and taken seriously.

I can't stress it enough.

Now is the time. The time to what?

To take advantage of your rich culture and heritage and marry them with the opportunity of the times.


First -- be bold baby!

That should be your motto in the face of any fear. Remember what fear stands for ... false evidence appearing real.

Learn the Internet -- understand the exciting new technology before you opening up all kinds of new windows to the world.

It is easy once you learn it. Use it. The world is so much smaller and easier as a result of cyberspace. Don't be afraid of this new technology -- it is the key to opportunity for you.

Tap into the many grants and corporate sponsorships available like never before to help launch Hispanic product and talent. Being Brown is the toast of the town baby ... use the momentum and show 'em what you got.

Network -- join or form a Latina women's group for support and encouragement. Work together. There is strength in numbers. We can do more by coming together and brainstorming ... sharing ideas and roadblocks. No one knows more how to support Latinas than fellow Latinas. We know the stereotypes we're saddled with ... we are force in number.

Most importantly -- respect your ideas, your thoughts, your vision. Don't dismiss it simply because it's born in your own head and heart. It's so easy to discredit our ideas ... our creative thoughts and dreams. Don't. Believe in them. Nurture them. Fight for them. They are yours. Remember, Stephen Spielberg started with an idea in his head. That idea he wrote down. Then he got a bunch of people together to project that idea to the screen. It all starts with an idea that you believe in ... that's the key.

I share many stories about maverick women ... because so many have inspired me.

Like maverick photographer Margaret Bourke White, who gallivanted around the globe in the 30's and 40's snapping the first impressions of American industry, American poverty and political injustice in the troubled Nation. She also captured in her lens great leaders of the globe in legendary prints of Ghandi, Stalin, prisoners in concentration camps and war on the front-lines. This all at a time when few women dared to be daring dames.

Tina Madotti, another maverick woman whose daring adventures as a photographer, journalist and government spy all add up to a revolutionary life of intrigue. Her photographs of Mexico and its Indian peasants are perhaps the most dramatic ever captured. But it's her life's journey and her passion and love affairs with men such as Pablo Nuruda and Diego Rivera that also add flair and flavor to a life fully lived.

The great revolutionary journalist Oriana Fallaci, whose interviews with the globes top dictators and pariahs make her one of the most unique voices of the 21st century. Now dying of breast cancer and writing her memoirs, hers is a most compelling history of a maverick woman who made her own rules in an artistic fight for democracy in all her writings.

One of the first female aviators at the turn of the century, Beryl Markham, is another phenomenal example of a daring dame who lived many lives within one life time. From Britain's aristocracy to the primitive ways of the Masai tribesman, this young woman learned not only hunting skills and the rites of passage of a native people, she also learned to fly and became the first woman to cross the Atlantic east to west. She then became a master horse trainer and writer of a book Hemingway himself said put his writings to shame. Her love life was as controversial as her maverick re-definition of womanhood in her time. Again, a woman who made her own rules at a time when it took real courage and voice.

It's fun to look back in time. I'm so in awe of their courage. But I am equally in awe of the daring dames of the new millennium carrying the torch even further.

Profiles of modern day mavericks like CNN's Christiane Amanpour and her life on the front-lines of the world's hot spots. National Geographic's sole woman photographer on the front-lines, Joana Pinneo, whose compelling prints have graced the covers of the magazine for decades.

Daring female race car driver, Sara Ballantyne, who at 38 not only is the winner of the 1998 ECO Challenge race staged in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, she is also the sole woman on the US ECO Challenge team and three time World Champion mountain biker racer.

And so many others who break the mold and dare to go where others only dream.

I'm not suggesting we all jump out of planes and light up the sky with adventurous daredevil stunts to be maverick.

But I call these heroines into focus to inspire you to be maverick in your own lives no matter how simple. Whether in your offices, at home as a mom, wife, caretaker or whatever ... there is a burning desire in each of us to fulfill a dream. Be bold baby. Take a risk. Own your gift. That is my message to you ... to simply hear your calling and act on it.

Again ... you ask how.

I'd like to share with you the seven sacred aspects of living that can make such a difference in our lives and in our building self love and respect from where all good arises.

They are Respect, Compassion, Humility, Honesty, Truth, Unconditional love and Wisdom.

Be a warrior of these seven aspects.

As my brother so beautifully wrote ... Be a warrior of mind, body and spirit. A warrior of mind because we fight to learn. A warrior of body because we fight to keep our bodies strong. Warriors of spirit because we fight to keep alive the seven sacred aspects.

As warriors we are born of the light and one with it. Respect comes from the realization that the light shining on our eyes is the same light that shines in the eyes of all men. Humility means that we all shine with the same intensity and no one man shines brighter than the next. Compassion means we are sensitive to the sufferings of others. Truth means we are honest with others. Honesty means we are truthful with ourselves. Unconditional love means that we love ourselves and others simply because we are of the same bright source. Wisdom is the knowledge we gain from the mistakes we make along the road to discovering the light that burns within us.

In closing:

Now is a time of great promise. We have a great history. A great heritage. We come from warrior spirit that races through our cellular history. Tap into it now. We are greater, healers, mothers ... lovers. We are women of the Americas with so much to contribute to the world.

As one great maverick woman -- Jane Goodall -- said so eloquently ... "We have a choice to use the gift of our life to make the world a better place. Or not to bother."

I challenge you to bother.

I leave you with my favorite quote from a Buddhist monk as read by Nelson Mandella at his inauguration.

On Shining

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God
that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our own presence
automatically liberates others.

Nelson Mandela
1994 Inaugural Speech
(Quoting Marianne Williamson)

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Copyright © Giselle Fernandez - 1999
All rights reserved.