Frijoles y Habichuelas
By Gabriel J. Rodriguez, NAA Chair of the Board, Empiric Institutional LLC
I grew up in the border town of McAllen, Texas, an hour and a half drive from Monterrey, Mexico, where my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived. Like so many immigrants before and after them, my parents immigrated to the United States before I was born to improve their lives and the lives of their children. As a child, I listened to Vicente Fernandez, Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, and Javier Solis driving with my father in the car, or heard him sing “esa tierra de Cocula,” “pero sigo siendo El Rey,” “Voz de la guitarra mia,” or “Yo soy Mexicano” to name a few at parties.
Similarly, he would also take me to see The Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carrera whenever the opportunity presented itself.
In high school, my friends who were also first-generation Americans from Latin America but not Mexican like me would listen to Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Bossa Nova, Samba, and Reggaeton which would make for very enjoyable gatherings. Growing up on the Texas border, listening to Tejano and Country music was also normal. Our experiences varied but were similar in many ways. So, what does it mean to be Latino in America? Like that musical experience of me and my friends - varied, yet similar.
September 15th marked the start of Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. During this month-long celebration, the contributions and culture of Hispanic and Latino Americans are thrust into the national spotlight as a homogenous group. The Latino community is not monolithic, we represent over 20 different countries each with a different way of speaking Spanish (and let’s not forget Portuguese and even French, and Creole and a myriad of indigenous languages along the way) and heritage.
Take the word beans, which in Mexico, Central America, and Peru is Frijoles but in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay is Porotos yet in Venezuela is Caraotas and in Dominican Republic, Habichuelas. We possess a wide range of characteristics and attitudes based on our unique cultural backgrounds and the shared experience of being Latino in America. Though we are from our small parts of the world, many of our family life stories are similar in that our families came to the United States of America for something better. Some fled political oppression or insecurity or immigrated for economic opportunity. What binds us together is our entrepreneurial spirit, grit to achieve, and cultural pride.
The Latino entrepreneurial spirit is evident in our contribution to the U.S. economy. Against all odds, the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown 34% over the last 10 years compared to just 1% for all other small businesses according to a recent study by Stanford University. McKinsey & Company found that over the past five years, 1 in 200 (0.5%) Latinos has started a new business compared to 0.3% for the next highest groups (White and Asian).
Over the same period the number of Latino-owned employer firms has grown by 12.5 percent annually, compared with 5.3 percent for White-owned employer firms. Latino buying power as of 2020 was $1.9 trillion a growth of 87% from 2010 to 2020, while the combined buying power of the U.S. consumer grew by 55% to $11.3 trillion (University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth). Latino buying power in this country puts us ahead of Italy, and if we combined all Latin American countries with U.S. Latinos, the pan-Latino economy would be larger than Japan.
People make assumptions in this country about Latinos, we are often painted with one brush as undereducated, dangerous, and violent. This could not be further from the truth. We are the economic engine of this county, and without Latinos the economy would struggle to grow. Today we make up 18.4% of the population of which 67% are U.S. born and we are projected to be 30% by 2060 with 76% being U.S. born (US Census Bureau).
Our shared connection is our rich culture, food, and language. We have an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong work ethic. So, whether you prefer Salsa (to dance, not with them chips), Samba, or Norteñas, or ask for some frijoles or habichuelas with your arroz, know that the plate is always served with much love and, if it’s at a local eatery, likely served by an immigrant with the entrepreneurial zeal and tenacity to make this their new – or old home.