Friday, September 10, 2010

Edward James Olmos - The Economic Engine That Will Stabilize Latino Communities

If you are Latino or have been around for a while it is a good chance that you recognize the name of actor Edward James Olmos.  Having made his career with movies such as Zoot Suit and Stand and Deliver, Edward James Olmos became a major force within that Hollywood ethnic click beginning in the early 80's and continues to carry a wallet full of cachet.

Ok, sure, Edward James Olmos had some great roles but what does that have to do with economic stabilization?  Back in the 80s - nothing.  Today, everything.

About two months ago I was having a discussion with Armando Sanchez, the Executive Director of and one of East L.A.'s resident visionaries.  Armando and I were talking and brainstorming like we usually do on Thursday afternoons before he tapes his weekly global webcasts.  The challenge he put up was how we could help the burgeoning cadre of Latino authors.  While some authors such as Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez have "made it," others, most others, are still having a tough time getting into the literary mainstream.

I suggested that the Bank host a fundraiser to help Edward James Olmos' nonprofit organization, Latino Literacy Now! and its Latino Book & Family Festival.  The LBFF was going to be returning to Cal State L.A. in October and needed funds to make it happen.  So on August 7, 2010, we did it.  And it was awesome!

About a week after the event I was sitting and thinking about Pan American Bank's mission of empowerment and transformation....and then it hit me!  A key to economic transformation of communities such as East Los Angeles is not dependent on hand outs or tax breaks or any of the many political promises made lately.  And the key is also not financial literacy - though that is one key.

Instead, I realized that if I really wanted to do my part to elevate the local economy over the long-term, I needed to start by getting those Latino authors back to Pan American Bank.  But this time, instead of reading to funders and financial supporters, I needed them reading to the most cash-strapped members of our community - the kids.

The idea goes something like this:
"Parents (Adults) That Read to Kids = Kids That Love to Read = Good Readers = Good Students = High School Graduates = College Graduates = Latinos With Good Jobs = Latinos With Financial Power = Latinos With Political Power = Latinos Breaking the Stereotype = A New Chapter"

I know, I know, this is not much of an epiphany.  People have been pushing reading for decades.  The difference for me was the economic angle.

So by now you're asking, how does this related to Edward James Olmos?  Simple.  If the formula above is correct and parents reading to children = economic empowerment then a good way to get parents to read to their kids in East Los Angeles is by putting a cadre of authors in front of them with similar looks and backgrounds.  In other words, get the Latino authors to inspire the Latino children and their Latino parents.  And that's where Edward James Olmos' Latino Literacy Now! organization come in.  The organization is a promotor of Latino authors.  Latino authors beget Latino readers and Latino readers beget Latino success stories.

After thinking through the process I called the organization's promoter and author Reyna Grande.  She loved the idea. Within a week she recruited eight authors, and it was on!

On September 11, 2010, we launch week one of the series.  Before even launching the first session, we already have nearly another eight authors excited to work with the kids - so look for round 2.

I am so excited for Pan American Bank, the authors and the families.  I really do believe that through this series of readings we will be able to change lives and improve the economic footing of the community.  The greater the number of college graduates in the community the better its economic prospects and the easier it becomes to bootstrap this community into the middle class.

It is not going to happen overnight but it will happen.