April 15, 2020 • Govtech Heroes
Spotlighting Hispanics in Government
Source: Garrison in Germany honors Hispanic Heritage Month.
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, and is celebrated to honor the cultures and contributions of Hispanics and Latino Americans. To honor the impact Hispanic culture has at all levels of our country, we present the stories of impressive Hispanic Americans in government.
- Raimundo Rudulfo, Chief Innovation Officer at City of Coral Gables
- Andrea Flores Shelton, Community and Economic Recovery Director at the City of San Jose
- Elizabeth Camacho, Economic Development at the City of Santa Fe
- Rhiannon Pape, Research & Development at the City of San Antonio
Raimundo Rodulfo, Chief Innovation Officer at City of Coral Gable
Hailing from Venezuela where he studied engineering, Raimundo’s path includes a career in telecommunications for giants such as Siemens, NCR, and Motorola. He has weathered the Y2K fervor, the dotcom bust, the tragedy of 9/11, and the rise of a dictator in Venezuela which has kept him from returning. He stresses that he maintains roots, helping family and friends survive the current conditions. Inspired by the need to be closer to family Raimundo made the jump to public service in 2004 when he joined the city of Coral Gables’ brand new IT department. The culture shock and stereotypes of slow government quickly wore off as he realized that while private companies tend to move fast – they focus on one initiative, while the government has to address the needs of all residents and juggle several initiatives. Likening it to a startup where you have to wear many hats, Raimundo has had to learn about Public Works, Citizen Services, Legislation, and how to connect with the community. He regularly collaborates with and speaks at local universities, including University of Miami and Florida International University where he attended for his masters in Engineering Management. Laughing at himself, Raimundo shares that he loves it when students stump him with their questions as it pushes him to keep learning. He is proud to have helped shape the city’s tech strategy and grow the IT department to one that is efficient and has taken on projects such as the Smart City Hub platform. Reflecting on what his favorite thing about his culture is, he smiles, eyes lighting up, and states with pride, “Well… everything!” He laughs and continues, “I love the culture, I am a musician so I love the music, the traditions that I grew up with, my families and friends, the beautiful places, you know…The resources and talent is so beautiful and we bring that with us, that will never go away. Here in Miami we keep close contact with Latino culture…We are all together in this melting pot and we enjoy it.”
Andrea Flores Shelton, Community and Economic Recovery Director at the City of San Jose
A native of the city of San Jose, Andrea identifies as Mexican-American, Irish, and a proud Chicana. Diving right into her family’s history, she shares her father’s journey to join a Franciscan seminary and become a priest. While I gape at her, she laughs and then stresses that it’s how her father got his education, the only one out of ten children who went to college. Meanwhile her mother became a nun after high school. When her parents met, while still very Catholic to this day, they left the order together to get married and had kids later in life. Her parents always stressed the importance of a good education.
Andrea inherited her father’s passion for social justice whose long list of activism included working alongside Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farmworkers Association. Knowing that she wanted to make a difference, she joined Blanca Alvarado, the first Latina elected to San Jose City Council and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. She fell in love with the strategic aspect of her work, the policy work, and most importantly that they were getting things done. Andrea worked on juvenile justice reform, San Jose’s Gang Prevention Task Force, and the public health department where she saw that public health and preventive measures were a critical component to solving systemic injustices. She wanted to move away from punitive measures and focus on preventive measures that helped the community residents who needed it most. Engaging with and empowering the community has been a priority throughout her career, intentional work with communities and really building up community power. And she thinks and hopes that people see the difference.
When I ask Andrea what her favorite part of being a Latina, she immediately answers, “The word chingona comes to mind. We’re really proud of being badasses and there’s no hiding it and…I think there’s something about pride in our culture and pride in our families…”
She pauses and shares that she had just gotten off a coaching call with her mentee and stresses the importance of helping each other. “A lot of women feel alone in the workplace and feel alone in their professional career path.” She stops and points to oppressive system as the reason for the crab mentality that some Latino communities have. “It’s like when the pie is this big and Latinos are only getting this slice [she holds up her fingers showing a sliver], of course they are going to fight over the pie. Okay, we’re all going to fight over that little slice. But I think a lot of us have woken to the fact that no, we have access to the whole damn pie. And we shouldn’t be fighting each other for the slice. So we need to be bringing everybody along.”
Elizabeth Camacho, Economic Development at the City of Santa Fe
Liz was born in El Paso, TX, a border town sitting between two cultures. Moving to Las Vegas as a kid was a big culture change. Self-conscious of her thick Hispanic and Texan accent, she stopped speaking at school for months. But by attending speech therapy, she realized how much she enjoyed learning social cues, cultures, and what the social codes are. That cultural curiosity has been a big driving force throughout her life.
Wanting to experience a complete opposite of her upbringing, she went to Connecticut for college and quickly realized that new spaces required different ways to assimilate. Wanting to see more, she worked in advertising, publishing, marketing, and lived in Spain, Paris, Boston, Miami, and while interviewing in New York she was offered an opportunity to move to Mexico City. While I was salivating at her exciting pathway she calmly states that she values the global perspective and versatility her experiences have given her.
Leaving the private sector and joining the City of Santa Fe’s economic development department has been incredibly rewarding but also frustrating. She notes that in the private sector, you can narrow the constituents and the people that you are serving, but when you’re serving the public, there are a diverse array of people and segments of communities that you serve. She quickly learned that in order to better serve the residents of Santa Fe she had to go straight to the community.
Being in economic development affords her the opportunity to create a vision and start forging the future for Santa Fe. Liz highlighted how challenging and critical working towards equity for all residents can be. Adding to that challenge is that the communities who need the most help are not necessarily the loudest. How do we create an equitable future? The question remains but listening to your local organizations and community organizations is the foundation to the solution as they can best tell you what their concerns and needs are. Liz emphasized, if you want to create change, government is where you can make a difference. Government is a place for young people so they can change and shape Santa Fe.
Asked what her favorite part of being Latina, she responded “That cultural dexterity, I feel that it makes you more empathetic. So it makes you not only more curious, but you’re more willing to understand, as opposed to necessarily see things in a fixed way.”
Rhiannon Pape, Research & Development at the City of San Antonio
When I looked for Hispanics in Government to highlight, Rhia’s team immediately emailed me to nominate her. “She’s too humble,” her colleague said. Meeting Rhia who is proud to be born and raised in San Antonio, I quickly see what they mean. Rhia gives you a sense that it takes a lot to phase her. It made sense when she shared the wonderful work she did working at inner city schools with kids who had significant behavioral needs. After eight years of dedicated work, she jumped on the opportunity to help the city of San Antonio build out new education and preschool programs. Wanting to further challenge herself after developing a successful program, she joined the department of human services to assist them in developing their head start program. “Government is not something that people tell you to go and do.” But Rhia saw it as an opportunity to scale her impact. After more than a dozen years in education, Rhia wanted to serve her community in a different way. “I’m always trying to find new ways to learn, I’m a lifelong teacher and learner.” Hungry for professional development and networking opportunities she joined the Urban Management Association of South Texas. She’s now the 2020 president-elect. Up until this point, she felt that her work had an overarching theme of program development. So when the Office of Innovation launched a new R&D program, she knew that it would be a great way to challenge herself, and she has as she has helped build out the program with her colleagues.
When I ask her about her upbringing she lights up sharing how supportive and encouraging her parents were, always stressing the importance of an education. After visiting several universities she fell in love with DC and attended Catholic University where she studied psychology. I ask her what helped her make her choice, “It’s a feeling you get,” stressing how important having welcoming spaces is.
She pauses and shares that being aware of people’s non-verbal cues is a great way to see if this is the space for you, including work. This is something that Rhia is struggling with – amidst the pandemic and all of the stressors it brings, folks have limited interpersonal interactions and visibility into body language. But she stresses that what is most important to her is being curious and asking a lot of questions. While some teams may be heads down and do work environments, her current team is collaborative, welcoming, and is full of curious people just like her. She thinks of the next generation and stresses how important it is to ask for help, know your skill set and passions, because no matter the topic – you can find that rewarding opportunity within government. She reflects that when she was younger, she didn’t appreciate all that her city had to offer, but now she loves that she gets to celebrate her culture in San Antonio every day.
- Government site – Hispanic Heritage Month
- EOC – Hispanics in the American Workforce Special Report
- USA Today Article – Underrepresented Hispanics