Lessons to learn

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By Anita Mabante Leach

Whether you realize it or not, it’s a “multi-culti” world in which we live and Juana Bordas is happy to point out the best qualities those cultures have to contribute to American leadership.

That includes serving as well. But first, a bit of background, both of Bordas and of our country.

Bordas, whose new book Salsa, Soul, and Spirit/Leadership for a Multicultural Age will be published in May, is president of Mestiza Leadership International, a leadership training organization; she also has taught at the Center for Creative Leadership. Bordas was founding member and CEO of the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. Locally she has periodically lectured in Valle del Sol’s Hispanic Leadership Institute classes.

As for American society, Bordas says there are certain things our leaders have failed to acknowledge as the country has matured.

“We, as Americans, don’t really learn from our own past and know why we are where we are today,” she observes. For example, “leadership in our country has grown from a Eurocentric, Western orientation. Until women stepped into leadership in the ’60s and ’70s, it was very much the White, male-dominated point of view. Women have moved leadership into a more process, people-oriented point of view, but there’s another step in leadership: socially responsible leadership that builds community.”

In Salsa, Soul, and Spirit, Bordas taps into the wisdom of such African American leaders as civil rights champion Andrew Young; Native American political activist LaDonna Harris; and legendary Latino advocate Raul Yzaguirre, among others.

This multicultural world that surrounds us can be confusing to some Americans.

“We have a real need for connection, for community and meaning. Americans are not very happy. We’re overworked. We’ve lost that sense of connection to one another and community,” Bordas says.

She believes the real purpose of leadership is to create a society where children and people thrive. For that to happen, leaders must embrace the values of other cultures.

The Western model is “more about organizational success,” she says. “It is very much connected to capitalism and business, instead of really being connected to what civil rights leaders have said: that leadership is about building the good society.”

Leaders who see that inclusion and empowerment are keys to advancing our society can help America fulfill its destiny, Bordas says. They must look to other cultures for guidance, starting with Latinos:

“If you listen to our leaders today, they talk about family values. But we’re quite aware that they don’t live family values. We’ve had a lot of scandals with both politicians and corporate people. We talk about family values, but we don’t support education or good health for our children.”

Family and faith are the two highest values of the Latino community, Bordas says — but it is faith with a slight twist.

“It’s a different kind of faith,” she explains. “It’s about taking responsibility for your family and community. We’re very loyal. We love our country. Instead of asking us to assimilate and be White, lose our language, lose our culture, why don’t you look at Latinos as a model for the future? We’re connected to 23 countries through our language and history. We’re the dominant force in this hemisphere. We’re good people. We take care of our own, work hard and serve our country. That’s what we mean when we say we want America to live up to its values, not just talk about it.”

The African American cultural concept of the village and taking care of each other, despite enormous obstacles and discrimination, has resulted in an unparalleled sense of community, she says.

“They survived 500 years of slavery, discrimination and racism, coming out with a vibrant community that gave birth in the 1960s to civil rights that impacted you, me and everyone in our country. It’s what Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘We came to save the soul of America.’ ”

Again, it points out the dedication to certain values.

“African Americans are saying that this country was founded on justice, equality, and prosperity for all — and we didn’t live up to that. (They’re saying), ‘We’re going to help America become what it truly is, to live up to its founding vision and values.’ ”

Bordas says that inherent in that African American concept of community is the idea of social responsibility, the thought that leadership is not about prestige, power, position or influence.

Additionally, there is the legacy of recognition in the African American community, the notion of regarding each other as brothers and sisters.

“During slavery you didn’t know who or where you had brothers and sisters because the families were fragmented,” Bordas says. “When they walk into a room there is an immediate connection through their culture, history and race, which goes beyond whether I know you/I don’t know you. That doesn’t really exist in the Anglo community, that type of identity with one another.”

Then there is the spirituality of Native Americans.

“If you look at Native Americans, (they) have survived near genocide and were put on reservations. And the essence of their culture is that spirit and God resides in all things; that we live in a universe that is spiritually connected. My identity, my community, my country: it’s all united through a spiritual way of looking at the world.”

This spirituality in communities of color is connected to responsibility and accountability to community and tribe, she says.

“It’s not about me telling you how to live, or who you can marry. It’s about me saying I am responsible, like in the Bible, to feed the hungry.”

And Asian culture? Bordas says she knows the Asian community has a strong ethic in collectivism, in getting things done and surviving by working together to achieve.

Yet learning more about Asian Americans can be difficult, much as it has been to understand the shades of diversity within the Latino culture: a myriad of self-identifying people where others see in only one color. In her book she invites the Asian community “to join with us in looking at how communities of color can further America.”

Bordas says when immigrants arrived in America they were asked to assimilate, to change their names, forget the language of their grandparents and cut the roots of their culture and histories. She says that needs to change and we’re already moving in that direction.

“Maybe that was necessary to form the American nation, but it’s not useful any longer,” she says. “Our corporations want people who are multilingual. Hopefully people will be able to see that for their children… for them to be part of the New World they’re going to need to understand culture. It starts with who you are and then moves forward from there, because culture is a beautiful tapestry.

“If God had wanted us to be all alike, he would have made us all the same. That’s not humanity. We are a rainbow of people.”

Salsa, Soul, and Spirit
Leadership for a Multicultural Age
By Juana Bordas, Berrett-Koehler Publishers,
$17.95 paperback, 200 pp.
Release: May 2007

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