NALAC 20150122 MIami Regional 0052 EditAbove: Sonia Hendler, Armando Huipe, Alma Herrera-Pazmino, Adriana Gallego, John Jota Leaños, Casandra Hernandez and Jason Aragon at the NALAC Regional Arts Training Workshops in Miami, FL


Latinas in the Workforce


What would it mean to look at Latina participation in the workforce through the lens of equity? Perhaps the first thing we’d want to do is unfold our idea of equality to see what other important themes, topics, and aspects of our labor force it’s connected with. Most likely, these connectors will relate to a range of pretty distinct spheres of activity: from aesthetics to politics, from culture to ethnicity, and from classrooms to class status. The fact that our understanding of work or labor isn’t bound to any one particular experience within our lives is a big giveaway too, suggesting that whatever productivity may be or possibly mean is less of a fixed matter and more of a dynamic result.


So let’s start big. Is gender a property we possess –that is, a quality of our bodies- or is it instead a function that we perform? Is it something we are or something we do? These questions are frequently the result of our interchangeable use of the terms sex and gender, even though they each refer to very distinct things. On the one hand, standardized definitions state that sex refers to biological characteristics through the binary of male and female. On the other hand, oversimplified definitions of gender are a way to describe our behavior within a given society through the binary of feminine or masculine. In short, sex is about physiological appearance and gender is about social activity.


It doesn’t take much for us to see just how different these two concepts are from each other nor to catch the major generalizations they can account for by using an “either/or” method of description: female/male, masculine/feminine. Let us now also state the obvious by underscoring just how deeply flawed such an indication of sex and gender is. By reducing the expansive, thriving realities of sexed and gendered experiences to this archaic and draconian binary, we –all of us- are left with two limited categories that primarily serve to diminish, regulate, and exclude immeasurable areas of our human journey.


To be sure, describing things through the use of binaries (i.e. black/white, us/them) is a great way to reduce any complex matter down to only two camps, which, almost always, end up in an oppositional relationship with each other. And so for example mainstream discussions on sexual difference may revolve around the anatomical or medical features of our bodies and their purposes in reproduction. Conversations about gender, though, might be more varied. To cite merely one example in connection with our topic, the discussion might be about how women perform most of the childrearing and domestic work, which is aside from carrying pregnancies and birthing human beings or, as most people call it, going into “labor.” By the way, isn’t that a curious choice of words? Furthermore, the discussion could be about hard-won voting preferences or the miniscule percentage of female CEOs in the tech field. The point being that our understanding of femaleness or femininity isn’t biologically determined or solely connected to parental roles -as if it was possible to define an entire human group as the source of reproduction- and indeed has more to do with the (re)production of cultural norms and cultural behaviors. In other words, when dealing with any such categorizations, we must always look for the blind spots. After all, we are talking about over half the population.


One of the interesting things to notice anytime we begin to research a topic like workforce equity as it relates to women, for example, is how the vast majority of the material we find has to do with other nations and their corresponding cultures, particularly with cultures that are located in that famous postwar category of ‘third-world’ countries. This merits commenting because not framing specific topics or issues of social justice as immediately part of our American experience does a couple of things. First, it almost naturally sets up a spectrum of ideas and conditions we can automatically recognize as part of our national identity (or consciousness), which are usually curated along the lines of whether these are unresolved social conflicts or not. Any ongoing social tensions will tend to primarily exist elsewhere. Secondly, it also locates that particular theme out there which, again, would make it an uncommon occurrence within our established networks of institutions, communities, and overall live/work environments. The impact of this curious feature will become more evident as we continue on. At any rate, the many inequalities faced by women in ‘third-worlded’ countries are viewed as a form of social injustice by the dominant order, whereas in our country they tend to be deliberated through the lens of property (social identity) or labor (the workforce).


But let’s start by looking at specific population percentages just within our own country. It’s also worth mentioning that our population tends to increase, on average, by just under 10% each decade. Now, according to our last 2010 Census, the population of our country was 308.7 million people and within that “…157.0 million were female (50.8 percent) while 151.8 million were male (49.2 percent).” At this point, and, although it might seem trivial, we might want to consider what purpose this kind of information or statistical breakdown serves for our government. Is the tracking of gender binaries meant for internal governmental use only or is it a public service provided for larger usage, including our vast private sector? The answer is both. Our system of governance utilizes data on gender along with age at multiple levels: 


“…to implement and evaluate programs, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Women’s Educational Equity Act, the Older Americans Act, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and the Job Training Partnership Act. Age and sex data are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among others, to aid in planning and development of services. Other equally important uses for census age and sex data are in planning adequate schools for the school age population and to determine funding distributions for schools and planning for numerous social services such as highways, hospitals, health services, and services for the older population. Census age data are also an important source of information on population aging, such as measurement of people eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits. In addition to these public uses of census data, census data can also be used by private organizations. For example, census data can help researchers studying trends related to mortality and population aging or help small business owners in planning where to best locate their businesses to fit the needs of the community.”


In other words, gender data (along with age data in this case) serves to guide the more common or public operations that are endemic to our nation-state –the “for the people, by the people” portions- and they also help our government meet its responsibilities as functionary in aiding the development and stabilization of our private industries.


With this in mind, let’s consider such dynamics within the labor market, where 57% percent of our female population along with 69% of our male population participate in the labor force. And, again, these numbers may come across a bit tricky given that the vast majority of domestic work and childrearing, for example, are not considered part of our labor market. That is, women are not paid for raising and taking care of their children which makes this a form of labor that exists outside the market (although some women may have the choice and ability to “go into labor” and contribute to our ever-expanding labor force). But, within the official markets out there, this is the most current ratio of active workers out there. Nonetheless, 70% of women with children under 18 participate in the labor force. Of the most common occupations for employed women, secretaries and administrative assistants, elementary and middle school teachers, and registered nurses rank as the top three.


From the latest research in 2014, around 10.7 million Latinas formed part of our civilian labor force, making them 1 in 7 women in that labor force. Furthermore, according to the Department of Labor: “As a group, Hispanic women tend to have less favorable outcomes than Hispanic men and nonHispanics, outcomes that could be improved by raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, ensuring adequate working conditions and expanding opportunities for higher wage occupations.”


The data also shows that Latina’s share of the labor force has also pretty much doubled in the last twenty years (going from 7.9% in 1994 to 14.7% in 2014) and, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinas are projected to be 17.3 of the entire female labor force by 2022. Yet even within such a promising scenario, there are many questions that come to mind, many of them revolving around wage gaps, our participation in certain fields of work, and the role that education plays for our communities as well. Let’s go with education next.


Just recently, our E-Boletin highlighted Fulfilling America’s Future: Latinas in the U.S., a recent report by Patricia Gándara, Professor of Education at UCLA and Co-Director of The Civil Rights Project and The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The 2015 report indicates how “One in five women in the U.S. is a Latina. One in four female students in public schools across the nation is a Latina. Projections are that by 2060, Latinas will form nearly a third of the female population of the nation. Thus, the future of the nation is very much tied to the future of these women and girls.” This premise alone is enough to garner our collective attention and support, yet there are some interesting conditions brought to light that fall outside of gender identity and speak to more systemic flaws. These include the fact that “One-fourth of Latinas live below the poverty line and more than half are living in near-poverty,” which means that academic goals (or consequent professional aspirations) are jeopardized by the direct effects of economic asymmetries. Another revealing aspect of Latina lived-experience is that their access to healthcare is lowest for any group of women –“In 2011, 37% of Latinas were uninsured compared to just 14% of white women …the situation is even more severe for immigrant women.”


If education is the modern world’s vehicle for sustained forms of economic and cultural impact, then its relation to the work women do is of key concern for us all when it comes to social justice. For example, the minimum requirement for entering our civil labor force is a high school diploma, which one in five Latinas between 25 and 29 years old does not have –for all other ethnic groups it’s one in twelve. To further comment on high school completion, a 2010 study by the National Conference on State Legislatures “found that 36 percent of Latinas who dropped out of high school claimed they did so as a result of a pregnancy… this was 6 percent higher than all other female dropouts.” One can’t help but wonder what the dropout ratio for soon-to-be fathers is? Graduate studies are another academic area where Latinas hold the lowest amount of degrees than women in other ethnic/racial groups, despite the statistical increase between 2002-13, which went from under 2% to 4%. Because graduate degrees are most widely understood as the key necessary requirement for entering into a professional practice –professions being credited as “positions that require specialized knowledge and long and extensive educational preparation” (i.e. business administration, medicine, law, teaching) - then making this terminal facet of education a realistic choice for Latinas rather than a distant dream is one way that we can move towards a more just society.


In the arts, of course, most individuals who pursue a graduate degree do so with the intention of teaching at a college or university level, even though the opportunities for obtaining a tenured position nowadays –in particular for artists of color- are less than dismal. Furthermore, it’s important for us not to blur a beneficial and rewarding creative career with being a teacher, as many artists enjoy highly successful careers altogether outside of academia. The point is, however, that there are many areas in the field of arts and culture that continue to have a direct connection to higher education, such as more intellectual-based jobs in museums, multi-performance arts venues, and cultural centers which continue to display a significant absence of people of color along with an abundance of men in directorial or leadership positions. For example, in a previous E-Boletin we touched upon the specific findings of an Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey from last year by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which serve to underscore the present status of ethnicity and gender within our dominant museum network. The results of their research indicate how "Non-Hispanic White staff continue to dominate the job categories most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of museums, including those of curators, conservators, educators, and leadership. In that subset of positions, 84% is Non-Hispanic White, 6% Asian, 4% Black, 3% Hispanic White, and 3% Two or More Races.  With the exception of the Asian demographic category, which makes up 5% of the United States population today, these proportions do not come close to representing the diversity of the American population." Indeed, at the time of this survey’s release, many of us out in the field found ourselves doing a very simple thought-experiment that consisted of merely asking each other how many Latinas in museum leadership or directorial positions we knew about? Talk about a shortlist.


This survey is a tremendous source for encouraging or prompting the kinds of equitable progress we’d like our institutions to embody, and it’s worth including a further excerpt:


“First, progress is likely to be swifter and easier on gender equality than on minority representation.  As museum staff has become 60% female over the past decade or so, there is now also a preponderance of women in the curatorial, conservation, and educational roles that constitute the pipeline for leadership positions such as museum director, chief curator, and head of conservation or education.  With close attention to equitable promotion and hiring practices for senior positions, art museums should be able to achieve greater gender equality in their leadership cohorts within the foreseeable future.”


A few months later, the Directors Guild of America released an inaugural Feature Film Diversity Report analyzing the gender and ethnicity of feature film directors. The study is based on films released between 2013 -14 and includes some notable findings, key among them is how “women account for only 6.4% of film directors –dropping to just 3% for major box office titles.” The majority of film directors “Caucasian males” at 82.4%, followed in steep decline by “Minority Males” at 11.2%, with “Caucasian females” at 5.1%, and “Minority females” at 1.3%. One is naturally tempted to make connections between these findings that albeit come from a more commercially privatized industry and the findings of a (now less and less) public industry that inevitably lead us to wonder if there isn’t some larger cultural cohesion at work within these two partly distinct enterprises.


And it’s important to keep in mind the kinds of economic blurring taking place between traditionally private and public institutions (or institutions meant for the public good) through means of transitional trends that, in the end, mainly provide our common or shared public sphere with fiscally hybrid organizations. To put it differently, we must ask ourselves: what are the limits of social justice? Or, although the origins of equality are found in our diminishing public sector, does its future as core social value lie in privatization?


It’s one thing to imagine our roles and functions within previous historic eras, let’s say even back when most of us survived as small groupings of nomadic bands, and quite another thing to imagine coexistence in the 21st century where we are all participants of a much vaster social project as members of a diverse populace. In our contemporary situation, the subject of gender asks “what kind of communities are we trying to build?” The answer to that question depends on whether we are building communities of equality.


Because it’s more than just people that get gendered. We have the capacity to gender language, objects, and even processes. For example, do we hashtag Latino/a, Latin@, or Latinx? The key lies in understanding the effect of attributing ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ properties onto ourselves, each other, and what we do. As cultural and artistic practitioners, the ethics or justness of such an effect proves incredibly significant when we are tasked with imagining not only what is in our midst, but what is to come. Curiously, although gender begins at home, the process of gendering (or sexing) travels and operates throughout a much broader bandwidth that deciphers and names cultural facets around the globe. 





The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora. 

For more information visit our website at or like us on Facebook at

Placemaking and unmaking

How is it possible for creative placemaking projects to be more inclusive?  What would that look, sound, and be like? For the most part, these projects occur in either underserved communities or they try to bridge the gap between unevenly developed communities and sectors; uneven, that is, from the standpoint of the more financially prosperous partner involved.  Because these projects seem to naturally rely on long-established cultural channels, they tend to reflect the interests of individuals and entities already supportive of the existing social framework.  This means that, if left unchecked or incurious, they can exacerbate existing structural inequalities -be they racial, ethnic, financial, environmental, or gendered.


Given this scenario, how do we engage with and help secure creative placemaking as a practice that really does benefit all parties involved, especially the less privileged?  A first step could be to understand why there is a need for placemaking and what its function is meant to be.  Although for some of us in the field this type of cultural work may sound novel, it is indeed a strategy conditioned by research from different fields that have guided, and continue to guide, economic development work across our country.  In other words, there is a trajectory of development that we can learn from.  This hindsight makes the all too common results of modern-day development not so mysterious, as many of us can see from the outcomes of both domestic revitalization projects and specific global endeavors in state-building.  Whereas the practice of artmaking may still be enigmatic for many Americans, there is little that remains mystifying about city planning, transit layouts, zoning, real estate, neighborhood displacement, and economic inequality.


Often, it is poor communities and communities of color that experience the side-effects of revitalization projects.  So the question becomes: how can heightened artistic and cultural competency lead community development or planning towards different outcomes?  An option would be creative-placemaking methods that consist of equitable participation from cultural sites and art organizations already in place within a specific community, rather than methods that focus on finding 'innovative' ways of absorbing a targeted community's immaterial labor, cultural network, and social capital.  We believe part of the appeal should be working with communities of color and poor communities to help leverage their own sense of place -this is where ethics comes into play directly.  In this regard, NALAC is quite hopeful about the more beneficial approaches creative-placemaking initiatives are currently exploring.


For example, ArtPlace and the NEA's Our Town initiative prioritize the value that arts and culture have in communities.  ArtPlace describes itself as a "ten-year collaboration that exists to position art and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities".  By focusing on "creative placemaking, the set of practices in which art and culture are used to help strengthen a place", they intend to support successful models in effort to make these more prevalent.  Our Town is "the NEA's primary creative placemaking grants program, and invests in projects that contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core".   A key aspect of Our Town's work is documenting and learning from the projects they support in effort to increase our overall knowledge of how to make this process more beneficial for different communities.  Ultimately, the goal for both these initiatives is to circumvent foreseeable obstacles to this social practice while, at the same time, do away with the unnecessary and usually negative byproducts of development.


A key thing to bear in mind about placemaking as a practice is that part of its logic includes displacement.  This leaves many of us struggling with how our current communities and their pre-existing places are unmade to give way to placemaking.  For  the most part, these concerns spring from some fairly unoriginal ideas about freedom and cultural knowledge which, in the end, prompt our search for a social ethics that is able to guide the manner in which arts and cultures are placed at the service of economic development.


One thing we can do is look at what the descriptions and language that serve to define arts-based community development projects (placemaking) reveal about the kinds of knowledge shaping the general understanding of this social practice.  The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies provides an excellent compilation of material and information that is really geared towards a comprehensive view on this subject.  Similarly, the Executive Summary on 'Creative Placemaking' put forth in 2010 by the National Endowment for the Arts offers a key perspective -one that continues to resonate strongly with the field of arts and cultures.  When it comes to our need for a critical framework in terms of the challenges in placemaking, Roberto Bedoya, a long-standing and invaluable voice in our field, published two recent articles that are vital for any meaningful discussion (1) (2).


As an evolving practice, placemaking consists of a worthwhile synthesis between work and research from fields previously understood more separately, like anthropology, economics, sociology, urban planning and of course democracy-building.  In that light it is very much an example of co-operation between particular fields of research now focusing on a community development project.  This in itself is significant because part of the purpose of this work is to ultimately increase collaboration and modes of cooperation among our broader populace.  The breadth of these efforts can leave many of us with far more questions than answers concerning the goals of such social projects, the means by which they are pushed to realization, and their outcomes.


The 'place-based' field refers to the professionalization of this social practice and is meant to generate, among other things, a new form of community leadership, one that understands the importance of artists within their own communities along with their roles in creative placemaking.  Over the last fifty years, this emerging field has incurred a significant amount of complex knowledge on development as an ongoing, profitable enterprise along with the kind of corresponding national and regional infrastructure (public and private entities to obtain and mediate  everything from informational, financial, and cultural resources) needed to secure its ongoing-ness.  This means that communities and new leaderships must be savvy about perceiving the many possible relationships between arts and economic development as situationally variable; they must be clear on what they are going into, what their goals are, and what everyone is accountable to.


Such current ideas about Placemaking are part of an ongoing and fairly organic conversation for NALAC.  We also see how most of us out in the field find ourselves unable to separate the many individual projects associated with placemaking -their intention and goals- from their actual outcome.  It's important to hold on to this connection between intention and impact, especially because it often seems the main result of this activity is to precisely generate a discourse and set of policy changes that legitimize furthering these efforts while, at the same time, focusing away from the direct outcome or effects of creative placemaking.   Given this translucency, how are creative placemaking projects held accountable?  Beyond meeting an initial criteria for funding, what and whom are they accountable to?





The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

For more information visit our website at  or like us on Facebook at

Main photo: The Buena Vista Gardens Building Mural by Lead Artist Valeria Aranda in collaboration with the San Anto Cultural Arts Mural Program, 2006.
This mural was painted by San Anto Cultural Arts.
Top things to know photo: Magdalena Gomez from TRGGR Radio.