It was like an episode of "Oprah": bright TV camera lights shined on women wearing soft scarves, matching take-away tote bags tucked beneath their seats, handfuls of tissue boxes at their disposal.
They at times teared up and at other times applauded as they listened to each others' stories. A Latina mother of two boys admitted she had wanted to start a business, but was met with resistance from friends and family who questioned her leaving her children with someone else while she worked.
They contrasted their own efforts with those of successful female figureheads who had arrived at the beachfront Santa Monica hotel to launch a new Coca-Cola speaking tour called Adelante, tag name "Inspiration to Move Foward."
The speakers were Nely Galán, the first Latina president of a U.S. television network, Telemundo; Sandra Cisneros, acclaimed novelist and recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship—otherwise known as the “genius award”—and Nell Merlino, founder and president of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence.
It was at Galán's prodding that the soda giant launched Adelante, the first event for which was held Dec. 3 at
“What research showed was a lot of husbands had lost their jobs and the women had stepped up, with the motivation to take care of their children," she said. “If you’re a cleaning lady that cleans five houses, you’re an entrepreneur. I want to reframe this for them and break the glass ceiling for them."
With the failing economy crippling many professions, Latinas have increasingly taken over the role of primary breadwinner in a growing number of Hispanic households across the country, which represent more than 50 percent of the total U.S. population growth since 2000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Still, pressure remains in that some in the Hispanic community believe that being a mother is the most important role a woman can fill.
The Adelante program is twofold, not only including the Adelante forums, which will take place in at least three more major metropolitan areas in the next year in the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest. It also includes a digital community on Facebook designed to connect Latinas to mentors and other women going through the same life experiences and provide support beyond the conference.
The digital platform will include content from the Santa Monica event as well as future events, and resources for Latinas who are looking for help or support. “If that is going to college or opening their own business the events in all the different markets will help us create this movement by inspiring changes in the families first and then the communities,” Reinaldo Padua, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman who works with the company's Hispanic markets, said.
The idea for the Adelante event was inspired by Galán’s nanny. She had asked Galán if she could invite some of her friends and fellow housekeepers—some of whom were studying to become dental assistants—to ask Galán for tips on money management. Galán had recently appeared on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” where she raised $250,000 for Count Me In.
“My big thing to them was you guys are spending money on clothes you should be saving money to buy a property,” Galan told them.
These informal events gradually grew in size so much so that they couldn’t get everyone inside of Galán’s house and were forced to move to a local church, Padua said.
When Galán shared this experience with the Coca-Cola advisory board the idea for the Adelante event was born. Unlike some other Latina events, Adelante is presented in English.
“Why?” Galán said. “Because we need to learn English, we need to speak English; we need to work in English.”
Picking from her 25 years of experience in the business world of working with billionaires like Trump and attending TED Talks, Galán will share lessons she has learned and select speakers for Adelante who will not only be fellow Latinas but others from whom she has also learned.
Los Angeles resident Natale Nuño, 24, attended the Santa Monica launch of the Adelante tour primarily so she could hear novelist Sandra Cisneros, who inspired her to read as a child. But she also said she knew she would be surrounded by Latina women "who were working hard, who wanted to be like entrepreneurs and business leaders, who want to hurry ourselves up."