Published in Hispanic Executive April/MayJune 2014
The distinct smell of empanadas wafted from the kitchen of the little green house on Floradel Avenue, in Leesburg, Florida.
Cumbia played in the background and was occasionally drowned out by boisterous laughter. Children kept time with maracas—one of them a timid girl with her father’s green eyes. Dressed in his ruana—a traditional Colombian cold-weather poncho—he settled in to recite the novena in the heavy accent of a recent Colombian immigrant.
“Whenever I think of home and family, that is what I think of,” says Maria Cardona, the green-eyed girl now an adult recalling a typical Sunday around Christmas time at her childhood home. With no more context, one might assume the scene from Cardona’s memory is a family affair, but at the time of the festivities, her closest relatives were in Bogotá. Cardona and her immediate family were the only Hispanics on the block, and one of the very few Hispanic families in Leesburg. A firm believer in community, her father would host their neighbors each week for a sort of Colombian culture night. “People would come over who looked nothing like we did, but we would be laughing and singing like we had known them forever,” Cardona says.
A veteran of the media and government, Cardona reflects on the example her father set with more than fondness now. Having worked for CNN, the Democratic National Committee, the departments of commerce and justice, the inSPIRE STEM USA coalition, and Latinovations—the niche subsidiary of Dewey Square Group (DSG), the public affairs firm of which Cardona is a partner—she has witnessed time and again the strategic benefits of coalition-building. And it is that strategy, she believes, which is the key to uniting the most powerful voices in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); immigration; and education reform …