Washington — Fifty million strong, Latinos are America’s largest minority group. They also have a thriving business community that is adding new companies at more than twice the national rate.
Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, a former U.S. Air Force navigator and corporate environmental expert who now runs her own marketing and communications firm in California, decided to look behind the numbers. Were some of the nation’s 2 million–plus Latino businesses participating in the green economy?
She was struck by what she found.
Increasingly, she said, Latinos are marrying conservation values instilled in them as children with a rapidly growing demand for environmental products and services. These entrepreneurs are finding themselves in the right place at the right time.
MEN AND WOMEN WHO COULD
In Los Angeles, Tiscareño-Sato caught up with Luis Rojas, who grew up in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Rojas rose to be an accountant before starting a solar energy services company that serves local governments and school districts in California. Evergreen Energy Solutions helps clients install and finance solar-energy projects and reduce operational costs at a time when many are strapped for cash.
Near Chicago, Tiscareño-Sato found Dennis and Lenora Salazar, owners of Salazar Packaging. Their company is creating reusable, biodegradable packaging materials from recycled sources, helping to transform an entire industry. Dennis Salazar credits his grandmother for his ingenuity and desire to conserve. She had lived much of her life as a poor migrant worker and told young Salazar, “We don’t have much, but what we have is clean and organized.”
Not far from Denver, Tiscareño-Sato discovered Frank Ramirez and the energy-storage company he co-founded, Ice Energy. Ramirez, who grew up in a poor family in Colorado, is helping electric utilities improve the efficiency of their power distribution systems. He had been destined to work in a steel mill after secondary school to support his family until a Scout leader intervened and made sure the bright young man went to college.
Tiscareño-Sato wrote a book to highlight these and other Latino entrepreneurs nationwide. More than anything, she wanted to give Latino kids role models and to defy a stereotype that she believes holds such children back. “I’m writing about people who are causing transformation in their own industry,” she said. “Who’s creating jobs? That’s a big question in our country right now. And there’s a lot of talk about green jobs, right? So I’m waving my hand, saying ‘Excuse me, look over here at the Latino community!’”
Far too often, Tiscareño-Sato said, Latinos are portrayed by the mainstream media as undocumented immigrants, gang members or people stuck in low-paying service jobs. Such accounts ignore an abundance of success stories that must be told to help kids succeed in school and in life, she said.
Between 2002 and 2007, the number of Latino-owned businesses grew nearly 44 percent, compared with 18 percent for the nation as a whole. These Latino businesses generated more than $345 billion in sales in 2007, the latest Census Bureau data shows.
Tiscareño-Sato hopes her recent book, Latinnovating — Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them, will inspire people of any background to mentor students and help them see that hard work can take them places they never thought they could reach.
Only about 12 percent of adult Latinos in the United States have a college degree and nearly 18 percent of those ages 16 to 24 have dropped out of high school, according to a 2009 survey by the U.S. Department of Education.
“With more mentoring,” Tiscareño-Sato said, “you can catch the outliers and the kids who are willing to buck the trend.”