Juana Bordas’ first memory is sitting in the hull of a banana boat with her mother and six siblings as they prepared to leave Nicaragua for the United States. Her father and oldest sister had gone before them to forge what Bordas’ parents hoped would be a better life.
“When you look at the sacrifices our parents make, what they did to get us educated and where we are today, you realize you have a responsibility to give back and contribute,” Bordas said during a Hispanic Heritage Month event at the McNamara Headquarters Complex Sept. 25.
The author and motivational speaker was the first in her family to attend college, a feat she said her mother helped make possible by cooking and cleaning in the Catholic school Bordas attended after arriving in America.
In 1976, Bordas was one of eight mothers who founded the Mi Casa Women’s Center, which works to improve employability, education and life skills of Latino and low-income families. In 1987, she became the founding president of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, the only program in America that prepares Latina women for national leadership.
The immigrant spirit of hard work and creativeness has made America great, Bordas said, and Latinos have made it even greater by bringing with them a culture that emphasizes community, respect for others, hope, honesty and gratitude.
“We are here to serve America and make it better,” she said, adding that Latinos have more Medals of Honor per population than any other group. One of Bordas’ sisters and all four of her brothers served in the military, one of them in the Vietnam War.
Latino culture embraces numerous qualities that all Americans, especially leaders, can use, she continued.
“Latinos are very generous; what I have is yours. They also respect everybody regardless of their status, whether it’s the person who keeps this building so beautiful and clean or the top brass. Then there’s honesty, which is rated as one of the top five qualities a leader should have,” she said.
Bordas described her culture as a “we” not “I” culture, an attribute she believes needs to be better cultivated in America. She also joked about salsa being a sign of the “Latinization” of America.
“It’s the number one condiment next to ketchup. And salsa is a great metaphor for diversity, because there’s all kinds of different salsa, and every batch is different,” she said.
Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population according to the 2012 Census Bureau Report, and the Pew Hispanic Center projects the number will rise to 31 percent by 2060.
“So you as leaders have to be thinking of a vision of how this organization, this country, can prepare for that change so it’s a positive thing for America,” she said.
“Those numbers illustrate the growth and achievement of the Hispanic community, but numbers alone can’t represent the true depth of the contributions the community has brought to our country, and it doesn’t bring faces to the journeys they have taken,” Defense Contract Audit Agency Deputy Director Anita Bales said while introducing Bordas.
Hispanic Heritage Month is observed each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. This year’s theme is “Serving and leading our nation with pride and honor.”