Hector Garcia, Executive Director of Minnesota Chicano Latino Affairs
Immigrants are key to
Minnesota’s economic future
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Competitiveness
Interview September 12, 2014
John Adams, Dave Broden
(vice chair), Hector Garcia, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Dan Loritz
(chair), Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter.
According to Minnesota
Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC) Executive Director Hector
Garcia, the Latino population in Minnesota has grown rapidly over the
past decade and now numbers nearly 300,000, of which 40 to 50 percent
are immigrants. He notes that the Latino population in the state grew
by 74.5 percent between 2000 and 2010. In comparison, Minnesota's more
rapidly aging and retiring European American community grew by only
1.6 percent during that period.
In the foreseeable future, Garcia points
out, 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require some kind of
postsecondary education. Further, demographers predict a workforce
shortage in Minnesota by 2020. Garcia wonders who will fill those
jobs, given the current educational disparities that afflict the
Latino and other non-majority communities.
The solution to both challenges, he
believes, is changing society's view of Latino and other immigrants.
Too often, immigrants are funneled into the social service system,
which might help to address past injustices, but is not as good at
building for the future. Although some immigrants may need the social
service system for a short time, Garcia asserts that immigrants and
society will be better served longer term if we find ways to harness
immigrants' energy, diverse cultural perspectives, youth, hard work
and ambition. As with past waves of immigration in the U.S., newer
immigrants, under this paradigm shift, could again serve as the engine
of economic growth.
While there are significant differences
between 20th and 21st century demographics that will affect
immigrants' success in making economic headway today, Garcia is
optimistic about their propspects. He wants society generally and the
educational systems in particular to understand that Latino students'
countries of origin increasingly play a pivotal role in Minnesota's
globalized economy. If that connection were fully grasped, those
students might no longer be burdened by low expectations, but,
instead, be empowered to be bridges of culture, language and economic
interests. Speaking a second language, he cites as an example, should
be viewed as an asset in a global economy, not a deficit, as it often
Hector Garcia is executive director of the Minnesota Chicano Latino
Affairs Council (CLAC), a state agency created in 1978 that advises
the government on matters of interest to Latinos who live in
Minnesota. He has served in that position since 2009. Garcia leads the
Council staff and its integral units: legislative affairs, community
affairs, research and administrative. He also engages Minnesota's
governor and Legislature on Latino-specific issues and policy
recommendations and builds bridges of communication and collaboration
with local and federal government, private and nonprofit sectors.
On matters related to Latin America,
immigrants and minority communities in Minnesota, since the 1980s,
Garcia has advised a number of local public officials, governors; the
mayors of Saint Paul, Minneapolis and other Minnesota cities; state
commissioners; state legislators; and others, including U.S. Senator
Dave Durenberger and INS Director Curt Aljets.
More recently, Garcia served as President of
MEX-US Global, a consulting firm on international investment, market
growth, and trade and intercultural relations. He served as Vice
President of International and Domestic Emerging Markets at Wells
Fargo Bank, cofounder and executive director of Minnesotans for NAFTA,
Executive Director of the Minnesota/Dakotas District of the National
Conference for Community and Justice, and cofounder of the Twin Cities
Immigrant Community Roundtable.
Garcia is a graduate of the Instituto
Tecnológico de México in Mexico City, with a degree in Business
Administration. He studied Psychology and Philosophy at the University
of Minnesota, Project Management at the University of St. Thomas, and
the French language in France, Canada, and Mexico.
As part of its emphasis
on the importance of human capital in Minnesota's future, the Civic
Caucus invited Hector Garcia to discuss the work of the Chicano Latino
Affairs Council (CLAC) and issues in education, workforce development
and employment in the Latino community in Minnesota.
The Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC) is one of four
state councils in Minnesota representing designated communities of
color. The other three councils are the Council on Asian-Pacific
Minnesotans, Council on Black Minnesotans and Minnesota Indian Affairs
Council. According to Hector Garcia of CLAC, the councils work to
collaborate with state, local and federal governments; nonprofit
organizations; and the private sector to improve the socio-economic
conditions of their communities.
CLAC makes recommendations for the
introduction of new bills, advises the governor and the legislature,
issues reports and holds community visioning forums in Latino
communities around the state. Garcia said access to state
officials could be improved, but CLAC reports fill that gap to some
degree. The reports deal with issues such as economic development,
housing, education, health, and immigration. In the visioning forums,
CLAC asks each community about its situation and what help and
services the Council can provide. CLAC also promotes voter
registration and furthers Latinos' understanding of government
The Latino population in Minnesota has grown
rapidly over the past decade and now numbers nearly 300,000; 40
percent to 50 percent of Latinos in the state are immigrants.
Garcia said the Latino population in the state grew by 74.5 percent
between 2000 and 2010. In comparison, he said, the European American
community in Minnesota grew by 1.6 percent during that period and is
aging and retiring. The Latino population nationally, he said, grew by
43 percent during that time period and is now 50 million, making
Latinos the largest minority group in the country. He said some states
have growth rates of over 100 percent. He acknowledged that some of
these numbers might include undocumented immigrants, but it's hard to
know their numbers with certainty.
Moving forward, 70 percent of the jobs in
Minnesota will require some kind of postsecondary education.
"Who's going to fill those jobs?" Garcia asked. "Given the current
educational disparities that afflict the Latino community and other
communities, it doesn't look like we're focusing on the right approach
and strategies. What are we going to do about it?"
The solution put forward by some economists
of getting people not to retire and to continue working seems
like a poor strategy. "It speaks very loudly to the fact that
people are not thinking about young immigrants and refugees, who
should be an obvious answer," Garcia said.
The current flow of immigrants is
different from that of European immigrants at the beginning of the 20th
century. Six percent of Americans had a high school education at
the beginning of the 20th century, Garcia said.Some
European immigrants at that time might have been as educated or better
educated than Minnesotans.
Today, Garcia said, 90 percent of
Minnesotans of age have a high school education. Many immigrants from
Latin America and some from Asia have very low levels of education, he
noted. "If you look at the villages in Mexico and Central America
where some of these people come from, it's like coming from a
different planet," he said. "Not realizing that enormous difference is
"Europe had centuries of tradition holding
education as a high value," Garcia continued. "In the villages from
which many oftoday's immigrants are coming, education is not a
priority. Kids go to school for a few years and then their parents
tell them they have to start working in the fields."
He said people of European origin say they
pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but he doesn't believe
that's true. There were strong support systems in the early 20th
century, including official documents being translated into German,
Norwegian or Swedish. "People are under the impression that immigrants
should come and automatically understand everything," he said. "I'm an
immigrant. I came here with three languages, a college education and
having traveled to many countries. I was still baffled by many
For the last 30 years, we have funneled
immigrants and refugees into the system designed for "minorities,"
without taking into account that historically, immigrants have been
the engine of economic growth in this country. Garcia said new
immigrants' ambition, diverse cultural perspectives, hard work and
youth have always been key factors as the engine of American economic
growth. "That historical formula was put aside," he said. "For some
reason, people thought, 'These people are not European. Let's put them
into the 'minorities box.' And that was a disaster."
"The social service system is great for
correcting the injustices of the past, but not for building a new
future," he continued."Why put the engine of economic growth into a
system that promotes co-dependency? For people who've suffered
injustice or marginalization, it's fine. But why put into the system
people who are arriving here, don't have that history, and are full of
ambition and youth?"
With the signing of the North American Free
Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, there was a huge inflow of
immigrants. "The governments and the corporations didn't do what
they were supposed to do and the small farmers and small business
people in Mexico got creamed," Garcia said. "They were desperate and
couldn't find a job anywhere, so they started flocking to the U.S."
He said most of the immigrants arrived in
Arizona, Texas and California. "There were too many of them in those
states already, but they heard about opportunities here, so they moved
here," he said.
Some educators have low expectations of "minority"students,
both those born here and immigrants. "The kids will hear this loud
and clear," Garcia said. "If that's the message, you're not going to
get people to achieve levels of distinction. It's not inspirational.
That's probably one of the greatest flaws." The way society sees
people will define their futures, Garcia added. Society's continuing
low expectations of Latino immigrants has the effect of limiting their
He pointed out that in today's global
economy, a second language should be an asset, not a deficit. Yet, he
said, many Spanish-speaking kids are placed in special education
because they speak a foreign language and they might remain there
But teachers, schools and other programs are
not the only ones that need to do a paradigm shift, he acknowledged.
"It's also the responsibility of the immigrants to do a great deal of
change, to learn about the system," he said. "Many of our people come
from environments where they've been oppressed and exploited. They
don't trust institutions; they don't trust government. That needs to
If society and the educational systems
understood that Latino students' countries of origin increasingly play
a pivotal role in Minnesota's globalized economy, the students might
no longer be burdened by low expectations, but empowered to be
bridgers of culture, language and economies. Garcia said the
students, along with older immigrants, would be able to provide a new
perspective that contributes to Minnesota's enhanced innovation and
synergism. They would enhance our response to the challenges that have
developed along the 2000-mile land border between emerging economies
and the world's largest market.
The private sector has become a bit
disengaged from education. "That shouldn't be the case," Garcia
said, "because they're the ones who are going to be needing the
workforce of the future."
Minnesota's growing Mexican and other Latino
communities represent a significant potential asset to the state's
economy. Garcia said that in 2000, he proposed an office that
would harness the energy of immigration and channel it into the
state's economy, but the idea was not implemented fully.
Austin, Minn., has created a Welcome Center
for immigrants. The center was funded by Hormel Foods. "We need
something that makes immigrants feel welcome," Garcia said. "And they
should be welcomed, because they're bringing what we need: youth and
The way to reduce the predicted workforce
shortage in Minnesota is to make a paradigm shift in how society views
immigrants. An interviewer asked how the rapid growth in the
influx of Latino immigrants might affect the projected decline of
100,000 people in the 25-to-64 age group in Minnesota between 2017 and
"If we start with the numbers, we won't get
to the solution," Garcia responded. "We must start with the paradigm
shift, because it's the root of the problem. As long as we keep
looking at the immigrants the way we do now, the workforce shortage is
going to grow, regardless of what we do."
Some international corporations in Minnesota
have made a paradigm shift in how they view immigrants.
Garcia noted that 20 years ago, he was doing consulting on his theory
of Cultural Complementarity, which he described as a process of
awareness that leads people from the traditional mindset of fear of
cultural differences to one that perceives enrichment and synergism
through those same differences. He would talk to CEOs about paradigm
shifting and how they could create synergies through their minority
immigrant employees. "They said, 'We have a yearly celebration of our
differences and are filling our quotas in hiring. We're doing our
job.'" Garcia responded that they wouldn't create synergies that way.
He asserted that rather than representing
costs and threats, diversity and uncertainty can become assets through
Cultural Complementarity. "Governments and corporations," he said,
"can generate creativity, open new markets, develop new products and
services, and greatly energize their workforces. Governments can
realize new economic development opportunities, enhance civic
engagement, and revitalize social capital; corporations can increase
teamwork and innovation."
"Today," he said, "companies like 3M and
Ecolab are doing it. They have people from other countries leading
large numbers of employees throughout the world. The companies
recognize that there's a treasure in knowing that foreign language and
in being familiar with other cultures in a global economy. Immigrants
can open markets, grow markets. It needs to be planned, intentional
and well designed. It can't be deferring to political correctness.
That's not going to accomplish much."
Understanding cultural differences will be
an important element of any new approach.
Strong family structures and friendships are
virtues of Latino culture. Latinos have a great deal of trust in
friends and family, Garcia said. That trust is not directed to
government, though, because government in their countries of origin
has not been very responsive in addressing the needs of the people.
"Cultivating that attitude of strong family structures and friendships
is what's needed in this country," he said. "But you need to be
interested and you need to know that it's possible."
He mentioned that the concept of time is one
of the flaws of Mexican culture. "We must tell new immigrants that
they must change their concept of time," he said. "It's not going to
Understanding Latino culture could be tied
to real economic benefits as well. Mexico alone buys twice as many
products and services from the U.S. as China. "Nobody knows that,"
Garcia said. Mexico is the second largest purchaser of U.S. goods and
services behind Canada, he said. "These are our best clients. We
should want to get to know them better." Since the 1990s,
he's been promoting the creation of a Latin America Center in
In November 2012, U.S. Department of
Education reports ranked Minnesota last among all states in Latino
four-year high school graduation rates, as well as in the gap between
Latino and majority graduation rates.
what's going to lead people to do something," Garcia said. He
commented on a number of positive attempts to deal with those and
other disparities: the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness
has brought together various agencies of state government to try to
address the problem; the state Department of Health issued an equity
report, which has brought together multiple agencies to work toward a
solution for health problems; Greater MSP,
which promotes job
creation, provides regional marketing and assists in business
recruitment and expansion in the Twin Cities,
offers "a very constructive and healthy
direction to move in"; Rochester is "an inspiring example of how we
should be looking towards the future and not lamenting how bad the
situation is today."
"But If we don't give up the notions of
'winning is everything' and 'looking out for number one,' nothing will
go very far," Garcia asserted.
In Northfield, the whole community has
decided to do something constructive towards harnessing the force of
immigrants. Garcia explained that the city's TORCH program took
the graduation rate of Latinos from 37 percent to 100 percent in seven
years. "Programs like this must be brought up to scale," he said.
Society must both provide access to social
services for immigrants and harness immigrants' positive force
and resources, not either/or. "The driving concept should be
engaging immigrants," Garcia said. "They may need social services at
some time, but they shouldn't exclusively be funneled toward those
services. We must also harness their creative and constructive
An interviewer commented that we can't
ignore thousands of immigrants coming into Minnesota when we're
assessing the state's human capital situation. He asked how to get
established organizations working with immigrants to harness the
newcomers' positive resources and get them into the economy and how to
get the agencies to resist their first instinct to direct immigrants
into the social services system.
"There must be joint conversations between
social service organizations and business," Garcia said
He noted that some social service
organizations "think we're adversaries. They think we'll take grants
away from them. It's a highly competitive system we have created."
The potential is huge for a transition in
society's view of immigrants to bring about an American renaissance.
An interviewer asked how we can encourage the transition from
immigrant status to successful integration into society. He suggested
as one possibility the
Rey High School model,
where students' working at responsible jobs one day a week is
integrated into the curriculum. "I think Cristo Rey has the right
perception of what Latinos can accomplish," Garcia responded. "But, if
there's no replication of the model, it's not going to go anywhere. We
need a renaissance of true American values."
Going from owning small businesses to owning
larger ones is a big challenge, because the people in the secondary
migration that came to Minnesota don't have the management capacity
and the capital to reach that level. This disparity must also be
Immigration reform is urgent and we can do
something about it at the state level. Garcia said he will be
convening a group of state and national leaders to discuss a program
Iowa's governor put in place in 2000. The program was ultimately
quashed, because there was too much opposition to foreign workers. The
program called for an immigrant enterprise zone and providing state
legal status to immigrants here, so they don't have to live in the
shadows. He said it would not be citizenship, but it would include,
for example, the ability of people who are here to get a driver's
license. "Having hundreds of thousands of people living in the shadows
is a huge threat to society," he said.
There must be interdisciplinary,
inter-sector dialogue, so people understand why the system is not
working. For example, Garcia said, despite having laws on the
books for 30 years, offering funding and programs to help
disadvantaged construction businesses owned by minorities and women,
not one Latino company, that he knows of, has benefited from those
laws and programs. "We need an intentional effort so what we're
intending to have happen does indeed happen," Garcia emphasized.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman